Dairy farmers need to see beyond habit and tradition and discover best management practices if they are to improve overall levels of efficiency.

Speaking at a World Wide Sires' global training roadshow across the UK, Dr Scott Abbott said nutrition is vital not only to the overall health of the animal but also to productivity.

"Key to dairy farming is to getting nutrition right. Good nutrition results in good reproduction and good health,” he said.

Dr Abbott, who consults globally and has his own practice in Washington discussed the ideal environment for fresh cows and stressed that such cows should be looking to achieve dry matter intakes of up to 3% of body weight for the first 20 days post calving.

A system for monitoring cows for ketosis in the first 10 days after calving is also crucial, if the disease has been an issue and can aid in preventing milk loss of up to 800 litres. He told delegates attending the roadshow at Alistair Marshall's Dumfries-shire-based Hargdrove Farm that ketosis decreases ruminatation and that the cows most prone to this metabolic disease are those with extended calving intervals and cows with a high body condition score at calving. However, he added cows with subclinical ketosis can be treated with propylene glycol as a cheap way of preventing milk loss.

The balance between eating, lying and time out of the pen for milking, is also important and Dr Abbott said, five hours should be allowed for eating, 14 hours for lying and resting and no more than four and a half hours for milking in any 24hr period.

Access to water for close calving and lactating cows is imperative too with milk having a large water content, with10cm linear access per animal being the rule of thumb guide. Restricting water access has a direct impact on milk production and particularly colostrum production in close-up cows.

Kevin Bousquet, director of training at the Global Training Centre, discussed genetic involvement in current cow management. He highlighted that single-trait breeding for genetically increased production has had a negative effect on health and fertility because cows prioritise so much energy to milk production.

“The tools are now there to select for a cow with inherent health and fertility, so producers must work with their genetic advisors to identify these animals. Less compromises now need to be made with the availability of reliable genomic indicators as many more bulls are available with the combination of the management traits desired”.

Mr Bousquet has been responsible for training reproduction technicians for 30 years and continues to oversee reproduction on many developing dairies around the world. He is passionate that the cow is perfectly designed to get pregnant.

“Cow numbers on dairies make no difference to the ability of cows to get pregnant,” he said. “Dairies throughout the world don't have cow problems, they only have people problems. Train the people and the cows can do what they are designed to do.

“If you are producing replacements it is beneficial to rank cows on production, type and health and fertility records. Realising that the best cows in the herd are the ones that go unnoticed can help make breeding decisions. The fastest genetic improvement in a herd is made by not breeding the bottom end of the herd, keeping the best genetics and removing the worst.

“Measuring data is key to management, but it is important what is measured. One of the most important measurements is pregnancy rate, calculating the number of cows confirmed pregnant out of cows eligible for breeding,” explained Mr Bousquet.

Research has proven in every country that calving heifers between 22 and 24 months is the optimum age to achieve the best production.

“Production data has proven that total yield also increases by up to 1000 litres in the first lactation in dairies who protocol four litres of good quality colostrum fed to calves within four hours old,” explained Dr Scott.

“Nature has perfectly designed these calves and within four hours is when they have the best absorption,” he added.

Weight gain of heifer calves was also discussed with the optimum weight gain 0.8kg per day to reach 80 to 100kg at 100 days, which is the target to raise well grown heifers to breed from 13 – 15 months.