Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 April 2017
To assess the impact of farm management on herd fertility, a survey of 105 beef farms in Northern Ireland was conducted to establish the relationship between management variables and fertility. Each herd's average calving interval (CI) and the proportion of cows with a CI > 450 days (extended calving interval, ECI) was calculated to establish herd fertility. The relationship between each response variable (CI and proportion ECI) and each explanatory variable (respondents’ answers to questionnaire) was examined using univariate linear regression analyses. All response variables found to be associated with the explanatory variables were modelled against each group in turn using a fully automated multivariate stepwise regression algorithm employing the method of forward selection with backward elimination. The optimum 365-day CI and a proportion of 0 cows per hundred calved ECI targets were not widely attained in the current study. The distribution of CI and proportion ECI in the current study suggests more realistic targets would be a 379-day CI and 5 cows per hundred calved with ECI in commercial beef breeding herds. Six management factors were found to be associated with herd fertility: herd vaccination, bull selection, fertility management, breeding female management, perception of extension service (rural education provided by the government) and record keeping. It was found that respondents who vaccinated cows had a reduction of 5 cows per hundred calved in the proportion of cows with ECI, and as the number of vaccines administered to a cow increased, the CI decreased. Regular vaccination of breeding bulls was associated with a 9-day reduction in CI. Bull selection strategy had several associations with herd fertility; most notable was that respondents who used visual selection rather than estimated breeding values (EBVs) to select bulls were found to have a 15-day longer CI and 7 cows per hundred calved higher proportion of cows with ECI. For each 0·01 increase in the proportion of cows served by artificial insemination, CI increased by 0·16 days. Respondents who rated their beef breeding herd fertility as ‘very good’ had lower ECI and CI than those who rated beef breeding herd fertility as poor or satisfactory. Condition scoring of cows at weaning lowered ECI by 5 cows per hundred calved. Those who perceived the extension service to be very useful had the lowest CI and lowest ECI. Respondents who did not keep a record of CI to assess herd fertility had an 11-day longer CI and 6 cows per hundred calved higher proportion ECI than those who did not. In conclusion, the survey found a number of important variables linked to improved fertility including selecting sires based on EBVs and using a robust vaccination programme.
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