Farmers Are The Gatekeepers to Herd Fertility

Posted on: April 05, 2017

Social science in reproductive performance management

Fertility is the cornerstone of success for any dairy farm, regardless of management system used. Where improvements are needed, it’s often beneficial to not just look at the cows but also consider farmer interventions.

There are many tools for analysis of reproductive performance, but this itself can often put farmers, and some veterinarians, off.

Sticking to some simple rules can hugely simplify the process:

  • Make sure measurements are current (so any interventions can be responsive), which means things like inter-calving interval can be ignored.
  • Know which key performance indicators (KPIs) are meaningful:

If targets are not being met, there are well publicised intervention strategies at a herd and individual cow level:

Herd level

  • Assessment and optimization of heifer rearing
  • Nutritional and body condition score (BCS) management
  • Improving submission, conception and pregnancy rates, including early diagnosis and treatment of metabolic disease, uterine disease and non-cycling cows, assessment and improvement of oestrous detection, assessment of semen selection, quality and AI technique and assessment of bull numbers and their fitness for purpose
  • Minimizing pregnancy loss by minimizing disease risk

Individual cow level

  • Treat peripartum uterine disease and endometritis effectively. Treatment strategies that first assess the luteal status of a cow, treat all those with a corpus luteum with prostaglandin and the rest with antimicrobials, produced similar reproductive performance improvements as to when all affected cows are treated with antimicrobials but with reduced overall antimicrobial use and costs.
  • Identify and treat those cows that are truly anoestrus with a combination of intravaginal progesterone delivery devices and OvSynch.
  • Implement synchrony programmes

However, whilst technical solutions exist for most problems, they require a collaborative approach in which the farmer and vet come together to mutually discuss the challenges, difficulties and options available. This is where some knowledge of social science can help vets in ensuring that veterinary science can be implemented to help improve fertility on dairy farms.

Planned behaviour theory proposes that to achieve behaviour change, first there must be intent to change. Huge influencers on farmers include social norms (i.e. what farmer’s community and other key sources of influence think) and a farmer’s perception of whether he actually has control of the factors affecting reproduction (many blame the weather for example).

The health belief model takes a slightly different approach, noting that there are three things a farmer and vet should assess when considering a fertility improvement programme:

  • Identifying if there is a problem
  • The threat of the problem
  • The benefits of the proposed solution

Research has shown that it’s challenging to effectively estimate the reproductive performance and the economic impact of failing to meet KPIs. However, case studies are a valuable tool, which showcase where treatments have been successful and this, coupled with an open and collaborative approach between farmer and vet can make all the difference.


This blog is based on Dr Scott McDougall’s presentation on ‘Improving Reproduction in Dairy Herds’ at the Bayer Dairy Cattle Summit 2017.

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April 05, 2017