The Business of Dairy

Tocal Dairy Breeding & Herd Reproductive Performance with Year-Round Calving

October 01, 2021 NSW DPI Season 1 Episode 5
The Business of Dairy
Tocal Dairy Breeding & Herd Reproductive Performance with Year-Round Calving
Show Notes Transcript

Breeding and reproduction targets in a year-round calving system are the focus this month. Matt Brett from Tocal Dairy joins us again to talk about the breeding program at Tocal, looking at their strategy, the systems they have in place to manage and monitor herd reproductive performance and their use of sexed semen.

Dr Luke Ingenhoff, veterinarian from Sydney University visits Tocal on a monthly basis and compiles an invaluable report which is used by the Tocal team to monitor the herd reproductive performance and pick up any early issues before they become a costly problem to the business. Luke explains what occurs during a monthly visit and gives us an excellent outline on some of the key targets to monitor in year-round calving systems.

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Tocal Dairy Monthly Business Report

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The Business of Dairy

Episode #5 Transcript – “Tocal Dairy Breeding & Herd Reproductive Performance with Year-Round Calving”


Sheena Carter: Welcome to the Business of Dairy podcast. I'm your host, Sheena Carter, development officer with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries dairy team. Each month, I speak with industry people generous enough to share their stories, knowledge and skills with us to help you in the increasingly complex area of farm business management. 


This month's podcast focuses on breeding and reproduction targets in year-round calving herds. Matt Brett from Tocal Dairy joins us again to talk about the breeding program at Tocal, looking at their strategy, the systems they have in place to manage and monitor herd reproductive performance and the use of sex semen. We are also joined by veterinarian Dr Luke Ingenhoff from the University of Sydney. Luke visits the farm on a monthly basis and compiles an invaluable report which is used by Matt to monitor the herd reproductive performance and pick up any early issues before they become a costly problem to the business. Luke explains what occurs during a monthly visit and gives us an excellent outline on some of the key targets to monitor in a year-round calving system. 


We’re talking about year-round calving patterns specifically in this podcast, where in New South Wales we have the majority of our herds are in a year round calving pattern. We do have others that might be batch calving or seasonal or split calving, but predominantly we're in a year-round calving pattern, which is generally reflective of being part of a liquid milk market. 


This brings with it all sorts of challenges, we've got at any given week in the year, we've got cows that are at all stages of the reproductive cycle from, you know, being on heat to being joined or AI’d all the way through to calving. So these activities are constantly happening on farm each week. 


So Matt, I might start with you, and welcome Matt and welcome Luke. It's fantastic to have you both here with us today and thank you for your time. Matt, could you just give us some background about the herd at Tocal? What sort of breed you're running there and why? The type of cow you are aiming to breed and how your breeding program works? 


Matt Brett: Yeah, great. Thanks, Sheena. Good to be with you again. Yeah so look, for those who haven't heard before I suppose, we milk around about 300 cows all year round here at Tocal Dairy. It's predominantly a Holstein herd. There's certainly a few Illawarra's in the herd and there are a couple of Jersey cross cows. But you know, realistically, those extras would total to about a dozen and the rest of the herd would be Holstein. 


So that the type of cows we’re breeding for, or aiming for, are really profitable cows, that's really the simple way to explain it. Certainly, cows that are, you know, hopefully go in calf easy are healthy, very efficient converters of grass to milk, and we'd like them to be as trouble free as possible. Certainly, we're not aiming for what some might think of the old style Holsteins big, huge animals, but even that is a hard thing to perhaps get away from in Holsteins, we do definitely now try to make a point when we look at, you know, breeding proofs, we look at stature and if anything, we will quite happily use a negative stature bull at times. 


So really, now we are using the Good Bulls Guide nearly exclusively and BPI’s and when we're selecting our bulls that we use, and really the health weighting is taking equal thought with the with the production indexes. So certainly the balanced, the BPI is something to… very useful for us. Yeah, so that's what we've been aiming for. And yeah, look, the truth is, probably in the next couple of years, we'll really start to see those heifers coming through the herd, you know, and we'll be milking them and we'll really be able to see how well our thought process, and the system that we've used, is coming to fruition. 


Sheena Carter: Is that a change in breeding strategy from what you might have been doing at Tocal five years ago or so. 


Matt Brett: Yeah, I think so. I think definitely it is. It's a really solid herd of cows that we have here now and the production is good. Really, those sorts of things as far as you know, having health weighted indexes and things like mastitis resistance and heat resistance and feed conversion efficiency and things like that really have only started to become stronger in the last, you know, probably three to five years. So we're certainly picking up and going with those now, and I think we probably didn't have near the information or, you know, confidence in that sort of stuff even five years ago. So I think, yes, it is new, but we're certainly happy to be using it. And like I say, I think the results really will come in the next few years when these heifers get in and get milking. But yeah, it's certainly, I suppose it will be a change from what we have had before. 


Sheena Carter:That's great. I think it's, you know, the more information that you can use to target the direction of your herd and the business, it all is very useful in business decision making. 


In terms of your breeding program, can you explain, you know, you don't use bulls anymore? You’re predominantly AI? 


Matt Brett: Yep, so really, the last two years now, we have not used… it’d be nearly two years, we have not used a bull with the herd at all. There's no bull that stands near the dairy for those problem cows or anything like that. We certainly have had that in the past, but that's completely gone now. And I would say that I'm still probably in the trial phase for that, I think, but I think it's probably… the answers become clear now, that I'm not going to go back to that. Like if the cows don't go to AI now, they will end up going. I'm pretty confident in the systems we have in place. That we've recently… or probably nearly for two years now, we've had the cow collars – have been on the cows, and the whole herd is collared up. 


Everything that gets bred now is basically… the computer tells us to breed them when they're on heat and that system's working really well. We have our four weekly preg check and that's a, you know, a brilliant strategy and a brilliant service that I wouldn't be without. 


So yeah, that's really what we're doing now. Whether, you know, like maybe there are some cows that, you know, are more suited to a natural mating, but that's just not fitting our program anymore. So yeah, we've gone pretty hard the last couple of years with changing that around. We've actually been trialling the whole herd with sex semen getting first and second insemination with sex semen. And then Angus matings thereafter. 


We've got a tremendous amount of young females on the ground now. So the replacements are good. The numbers are strong. Certainly, that can have some challenges at times, and I'm still looking at that system, whether we might need to refine that a little bit more. It certainly would not be for everyone. I'm not recommending that for everyone at the moment, but we've been happy with it. But we are still looking at ways that we may make that system a little bit better in the future. But yeah, certainly that's worked well for us the last couple of years. And the Angus calves that we have in our system now – really easy to sell and they're a really strong market. So that adds another income stream for us as well.



Sheena Carter: In terms of replacement numbers that you're trying to bring through each year, I guess, you know, essentially, would you say, you know, you're not trying to expand herd size at the moment beyond that sort of 280 to 300 cows? So how many replacement heifers are you targeting to bring through each year? 


Matt Brett: Yeah, no, we're not trying to expand at the moment, but the truth is we did sell fairly substantially through the drought years. The last couple of years when, you know, things were pretty tough and mind you were a lot better off than a lot of people. I suppose we still had had water and had some irrigation, but yeah, we were relying on a lot of bought in feed. We did we did sell down fairly heavily. So I am in the process of, you know, we've got heifers coming in now that will get us back up to where I want to be at a number that we’ll stay at. But yeah, realistically, I probably only need 80 to 90 heifers every year for that 300, maybe 310, cow herd to sustain that. And that'll give me an option with that amount that, you know, you'll have a few that won't fire so they'll never really come into the herd, you know, you'll have some that you might cull after a little while. And then you might even have some that you could still have a surplus even with that. So you might have a group that you could sell off or something like that. 


Sheena Carter: Yeah, I might just flick to Luke on this point, and I know that we will come to this a bit later in our discussions in the report that you generate for your clients each month, but even in that sort of 300 cow herd in a year round calving system, what does that sort of translate to in terms of calvings per month that needs to be targeted? 


Luke Ingenhoff: Yeah, calvings per month, so in a year-round calving herd what we really want is a year round calving herd to have an average calving interval of around 13 months. So what that means is if we take the two of those months the cow is going to be dry, we can take that herd size of 300 and divide it by 11, that the remaining number of months of the cows milking for. And it'll give us the minimum number of calvings that we want in order to maintain a fresh herd. So if we have 300 cows, three hundred divided by 11 is about twenty eight calvings a month. So what that means is that we need to be getting on average at least twenty one milkers pregnant each month and at least seven heifers in order to get that twenty eight calvings per month. 


Sheena Carter: Okay, that's great. And I guess, you know, and maintaining, you know, we don't want to get into a situation where we've got a stale herd, so maintaining a good average days-in-milk along with that. 


Luke Ingenhoff: Yes, and so if we're hitting those numbers and assuming that the herd size remains constant, then that should enable us to average an average days of milk of around that 170 day mark, which is what would be expected for a herd that achieves a 13 month average calving interval. 


Sheena Carter: Great, thanks, Luke. Matt, you mentioned in terms of heat detection, you've got cow collars on the farm, sorry, on the cows. What sort of other tools you do you use? I think you have mentioned in a previous podcast that obviously you've got students at Tocal College. You still do visual heat detection?


Matt Brett: Yeah, look, certainly all our heifer groups are done with patches and visual heat detection, so we synchronize all our heifers for at least their first mating, will be with sexed Holstein semen. Obviously, that's a bull selected specifically for heifers, so it’ll be easy calving. Bulls that are suitable, and that's one thing I will say about our program in general now with the sex semen and with our heifers selecting these bulls for calving ease, we're really doing well with the amount of calvings that we have to assist with – very low numbers. But yeah, certainly the students will be involved. We still teach them certainly how to heat detect and they'll be involved in those heifer programs, watching for signs of heat. Then we look at the scratchies and we’ll use those for breeding. But the cows in the main herd, really now, certainly the students will still look for that sort of sign and they'll make a note of it. And then we can nearly check them against the computer the next day, you know, to see whether those cows, you know, that they’re on heat. It actually works quite well as a training and monitoring sort of a tool as well. So we can sort of, you know, students go out in the paddock and have a look, write down the cows that they see are on heat and then we can nearly assess them the next morning by what comes up on the computer for mating. So it does work well that way. 


Sheena Carter: And in terms, obviously we're talking here about various bits of information that are being captured around reproductive performance, obviously observing heats and cows in heat and there's a plethora of programs out there for capturing this information, recording it and investigating what you're seeing. Do you want to talk about the software without, you know, we're not necessarily promoting any particular software here, but what you're using at Tocal Dairy? 


Matt Brett: Yeah so, we use Easy Dairy, and it's a great herd management platform for us, but equally, there's other ones around that do just as good a job. But certainly we wouldn't be without that, as far as, you know, keeping monitoring individual cows, cow groups, you know, how many cows are over 45 days not mated or 100 days not in calf? You know, you can put any, any sorts of parameters in with that with that system, so it's really useful. That, along with the drafting gate, to be able to draft groups of cows out that we need to put up each month for preg test or for, you know, any sorts of treatments that we need to do. Managing your groups is really crucial. So I couldn't be without the management platform and the drafting gate is exactly what we need. And then that works hand in hand with the report that Luke does for us every month. That repro report is just so critical. Every month we know exactly where we're sitting. You know what groups of cows do we have to focus on? Have we had a problem? Are we a bit behind where we need to be? Do we need to be a bit more aggressive with our mating strategy? Are our numbers looking right for calving pattern for the next 12 months? Are we going to have the amount of milkers that we need? I mean, if you don't measure these things, you don't really know. You can take a bit of a guess at it, I mean, that's the whole point for us. Good, bad or indifferent, we know every month exactly where we're sitting and that way you can make informed decisions and get yourself to where you need to be. 


Sheena Carter: And I guess that's one of the key messages, you know, from this podcast. It's really ensure that you have good information that you're capturing and you're using that information in a timely manner so that you can be proactive in your herd’s management and you're not getting to a point, you know, at some point, all of a sudden you discover you've got a disaster on your hand. You haven't got, you know, you’ve extended lactations, days in milk blown out. Cow replacements not coming through, which can end up being a very costly exercise. So this reporting that you get done with Luke, as you say, is invaluable. 


Luke, I might flick to you now if you would like to just explain to us, obviously we've mentioned you do this for clients in New South Wales, in the north and the south coast, and it's a monthly visit that you do with Tocal. Can you explain what it is that you actually do when you get on farm at Tocal and how you generate these reports? 


Luke Ingenhoff: Yes, so we do a visit to Tocal once every four weeks. I mean, the amount of time I spend on different… or the frequency of visits on different farms varies. But as a… generally for farms that are using AI for the majority, their breedings, that where heat detection is important, a monthly visit is really helpful, not just in terms of being out to detect who's pregnant, but also in terms of being able to detect who's empty. 


You know, there's just as much value in detecting who is empty at a preg testing visit because then you have the opportunity to get on and get her rebred at the earliest opportunity. So at each of our visits, we pregnancy test our early group. So our early group are generally going to be between 32 in 60 days gestation. We tend to set 32 days as our, sort of, lower end cut-off for preg testing because we get a really clear image on the ultrasound that 32 days, you know, if you go too far early, you end up calling a lot of rechecks, but 32 days we don't tend to call very many. So that's one of our preg tests, those early preg tests, and if they're empty, we get a chance to do something with them. Whether that is to give a dose of PG to those cows that are already cycling and then get them heat detected and rebred again, or whether that is to slip cows into a fixed time AI program, like an off sync program, which sort of ends up with a guaranteed breeding at a later date. We also pregnancy test reconfirms. A reconfirm is when we're preg testing a cow a second time at about three to four months gestation, and the idea behind this is that for cows that are in their second month of gestation when we're pregnancy testing, there is still normal attrition. That's normal losses that are still yet to occur. As a general rule of thumb, we expect about seven per cent of cows that are pregnant in their second month of gestation to go on to lose that pregnancy. Just by normal, normal means. Most of those losses will occur by the time the cow gets to three months gestation. So if we're routinely checking reconfirms at three to four months, if there are losses there that haven't been picked up through the cow returning to oestrus and being detected on farm, then we have that back up where we can detect some of those empty cows. And if that cow isn't too many days in milk, isn't already heading towards a potential cull list, then there's an opportunity there to get her rebred before it's too late. The farm will also put forward cows that are past their voluntary waiting period that haven't necessarily been detected in oestrus yet. So that's a chance to detect cows that may be cystic or maybe just not cycling properly, or maybe even cows that have a pyometra or an endometritis that might need detecting and treating. And then at the end of our visit we collect data from the farm and collecting data from the farm at Tocal means taking a copy of the data on their herd management system, which in Tocal’s case is Easy Dairy.


Now, one of the challenges of analysing data is that different farms have different systems and how we analyse data depends on how that data comes. For some farms analysing data is easy. For some farms, analysing data is a challenge. We're quite fortunate that Tocal is using Easy Dairy because I work with John House at the University of Sydney and quite a number of years ago he wrote an analysis program that analyses Easy Dairy data quite well. So it gives me the opportunity to analyse their data in a fairly efficient manner and report back on a range of parameters. 


Sheena Carter: In terms of those parameters, what are some of the key parameters that you look at within that report and why do you look at those parameters? 


Luke Ingenhoff: So some of the parameters are quite historical in that, you know, if we're measuring something based on all the cows currently milking, we almost get like a bit of a rolling average. And some of the parameters we look at are more instant. What's happening now or what's happening at this point in time? So we like to look at the herd structure. We like to look at the average days in milk. We like to look at the percentage of the lactating herd pregnant. And when we look at these three things together, it gives us a bit of a measure of where the herds currently at. So what herd structure will tell us is what percentage of cows are currently less than 150 days in milk, what percentage over 150 days in milk? So giving us a bit of an idea of how fresh or how stale the herd is. For a year-round calving herd where things are going along pretty well and where the herd numbers are fairly steady, then what we like to see is about forty five percent of the herd to be under 150 days in milk. At the same time, we can look at the average days in milk. For a year round calving herd, where reproductive performance is fairly steady, our target is to have an average days in milk of between 160 and 180 days, and the logic behind that is if you take 170 days as an average and then double it and then add a 60 day dry period, you end up with 400 and 400 days is 13 months. 


And then we can also look at what percentage of cows are pregnant. As a general rule of thumb, we want about 50 percent of the herd to be confirmed pregnant at any one point in time. But of course, when I look at this, I look at it in conjunction with how fresh or how stale the herd is. The more stale a herd is, the higher the percentage of the herd pregnant I'd like at this point in time. And if a herd is very fresh, the percentage of the herd pregnant doesn't need to be quite as high, and that's in situations where, say, a herd performance isn't steady. So, for example, a summer period will often cause a bit of a fluctuation to a year-round calving herd. If you go through a summer period, where you’re getting less cows pregnant and then a winter period where you're getting more pregnant, you will get a fluctuation and being able to look at data with a grain of salt, you know, it's helpful because it allows us to recognise when data might look a particular way at first sight but might be okay under the circumstances. 


Sheena Carter: And I guess it's always important to context data, and I think, you know, we've spoken about this in a previous podcast Matt, where you've got the challenges of those hot times of the year, so, and Luke you're looking at the number of calvings that are coming through and being able to then manage that with your synchrony programs to make sure we've got the balance in the herd structure coming through. 


Luke Ingenhoff: We can also look at average days to conception. So average days to conception is, on average, how many days in milk is the average cow falling pregnant? And our target varies for the average cow to fall pregnant by 120 days in milk. And the logic there is if you take 120 days in milk and then add a 280 day gestation period, then it gives us a projected average calving interval of 13 months. 


We also look at 80 days submission rate and 100 day in calf. Now, these two are probably the most widely recognized parameters for measuring year-round calving reproductive performance. They're certainly two of the key measures that were identified in the In-Calf program 20 years ago. 100 day in calf rate is what percentage of eligible cows are falling pregnant by 100 days in milk. Now, it's considered an overall measure of reproductive performance. So for us, our target is 40 per cent. What we want is to see our year-round calving herds getting 40 per cent of their eligible cows pregnant by 100 days in milk. Anybody listening who has seen say an example – a fertility focused report – might notice that the target on that report is often listed around 54 per cent. The reason for that difference is if you are aiming for an average calving interval of 12 months, 54 percent is what you would need to achieve. But if you're aiming for an average calving interval of 13 months, a target of 40 per cent will get you there.


Now, a 100 day in calf rate now… well, firstly, I suppose who is that eligible group? When I say eligible cow, our eligible cow is any cow not yet pregnant who is past the voluntary waiting period, which for many farms, the voluntary waiting period will be 45 or 50 days – excluding culls – so excluding any cows designated as future culls. 


Now our main drivers of 100 day in calf rate are the submission rate and the conception rate. At the same time, we also look at 80 day submission rate. What percentage of cows have been bred at least once by 80 days? And what we want is for our year-round calving herds to be getting at least three quarters of their cows bred at least once by 80 days. If we get the submission rate high early, then it improves our chances of reaching our target 100 day in calf rate. 


Sheena Carter: Sure. I guess, conversely Luke, if we've got a low submission rate, what might be some of the things that you'd go looking for? 



Luke Ingenhoff: Yeah, so if we have a low submission rate, well number one is heat detection efficiency. And we often use the term heat detection efficiency and submission rate in the same context. And actually when farms have approached me in the past to look at reproductive performance issues, the number one issue that's causing not enough cows to fall pregnant is not enough cows being bred in the first place. So heat detection, choosing an appropriately low voluntary waiting period, using heat detection aids that help to maximize the number of cows that are detected. You know, not every farm is the same. Different farms have different challenges. You know, some farms that use PG and oestrus detection may perform really well. Other farms may struggle. So being able to change a tactic where required, you know, some farms benefit from using a fixed time AI program on their empty cows where heat detection is not required. You just set the cow up and you mate her on the designated date. And so changing tactics where required can help with submission rate too. 


One thing I find useful also, so all of these parameters I’ve mentioned so far, all have a bit of a… they're all a little bit historical. For example, if we're looking at who is currently milking, it's sort of an average that goes back a couple of months. Or if we're looking at what proportion of the cow is pregnant now that result is off and based on things that happened last year. What else is really useful for us to look at is what the pregnancy rate is in the herd. Now pregnancy rate is something we measure in three week intervals. We choose three week intervals because presumably, you know, the interestrus period is about three weeks. So presumably most cows who are eligible have one chance to be detected on heat in that three week interval. 


Now, this is not so historical. This is more of a look at what's happened in this recent three week interval and what happened in the three week interval before that. As a general rule of thumb, if we can achieve a pregnancy rate of 20 percent, or around 20 percent, every three weeks, then inevitably that farm is very likely to achieve the 13 month average calving interval that's desired. Now, there are different ways to achieve a pregnancy rate of 20 percent. Pregnancy rate is not the same as conception rate. So conception rate is what percentage of eligible cow… no, what percentage of cows bred fell pregnant? Pregnancy rate is different. Pregnancy rate is what percentage of eligible cows fell pregnant, regardless of whether you mated them or not. And so for anyone there sort of listening thinking, geez, a pregnancy rate of 20 per cent, that sounds low. Well, actually, a conception rate of 20 per cent may be low, but a pregnancy rate of 20 per cent is great. 


So, pregnancy rate actually equals conception rate times submission rate. We’ll often say we want to achieve a three week submission rate of 50 percent. Now that's not always true. If you’ve got a dairy farm that's achieving a conception rate of 40 per cent in their milking herd, then a submission rate of 50 per cent every three weeks will get you your 20 per cent target. And that's because 50 per cent times 40 percent is 20 percent. But if you're a dairy farm that is sitting on a conception rate of, let's say, 33 per cent, then in order to achieve the same pregnancy rate, that farm needs to achieve a three week submission rate of 60 per cent. And that's because 60 per cent times 33 per cent is also 20 per cent. So the limiting factor doesn't have to be your conception rate. There are farms out there with fantastic conception rates, conception rates of 40 per cent, 50 per cent. But if they're not breeding enough cows, they won't reach the 20 percent preg rate target. Whereas there are other farms up there that consistently achieve a 30 percent conception rate. But because their submission rate is so high, they're always achieving that 20 percent target and they're reaching that 13 month desired average calving interval. 


Sheena Carter: Fantastic. So there's various ways you can come about hitting your target, hitting your targets, you've just got to understand the numbers and how they're being derived and what's driving the performance, I guess. 


Luke Ingenhoff: And for many farms, it can be hard to improve your conception rate by much in the short term. But if submission rate is the limiting factor, there's a lot of things a farm can do to improve their submission rate in the short term. And so that that can often be the limiting factor. 


Sheena Carter: And so is that one of the, you know, it's hard to generalize I guess, but would you say that's one of the more common issues that you see on farms in New South Wales? 


Luke Ingenhoff: Yes. Farms who maybe have all of the sudden decided to do something different or look into their herd reproductive performance, the most common limiting factor is submission rate. So getting those submission rates up, getting the number of cows bred is what will lead to increased pregnancies. 


Matt Brett: That's been true on Tocal for sure. That since we've implemented the cow collars, the submission rate is just – it's chalk and cheese – there's really no other way to sort of explain it. In our system, you know, we have morning milkers, afternoon milkers, we have students. So perhaps it is a little different to some farms where maybe the owner operator is always there and always, you know, monitoring that, that system. But for us, I think it would go with any larger farm with the number of staff, that was always a challenge for us. And certainly, there's other ways around it, like Luke said, you can decide just to go in for timed programs and things like that and put every cow up that's 45 days plus and you can probably achieve good results if you're really aggressive with that. The collars for us have been the way we've went about it. But in saying that we will still then have groups of cows that we'll put on a on a time program after Luke's visit. And that way we, I suppose it's a double-barrelled approach to that, we really are making sure that we're breeding every cow we can breed. But certainly getting that submission rate up has been a game changer for us. 


Sheena Carter: Fantastic. So, look, I think we've covered a lot of ground in our discussions today. Luke, have you got any tips for people that don't perhaps use some of this recording software on farm, what are some of the things that they might be able to do to understand, measure their reproductive performance and make adjustments, set targets if they need to? 


Luke Ingenhoff: Yeah, there are ways to look at reproductive data even if the data is not in a desirable form. So it may mean that it's difficult to measure some of the more complex things like the three week preg rate and their three week submission rate. But if you've got calving dates, dry off dates, mating dates and pregnancy testing results, there is the opportunity to measure some of these things at a fixed point in time just using, say, a simple Excel spreadsheet. So, for example, if you've got all of your calving dates and you know today's date, then you can use an Excel spreadsheet to work out what your average days in milk is right now. You can work out what your percentage of herd pregnant is, what you heard structure is. So you can work those things out at a fixed point in time using an Excel spreadsheet, you probably just miss out on that historical context, and you probably just miss out on the more complicated ones to measure, like what is your three week preg rate and submission rate? You know, for this three week interval and last three interval and the interval before that becomes a little bit difficult without, I suppose a more sophisticated analysis program. But there is some simple data you can look at. 


Sheena Carter: Sure. And I think, you know, things like even just your average days in milk, you know, there's data out there to say that if you've got an average days in milk of 220 days and you bring that back to 180, you know, there's a three litre per cow difference just because of the freshness of the herd. And I think, you know, to put that in context, if we're looking at three litres per cow over a 100 cow herd, just for maths sake, and we want to use 60 cents a litre as a milk price, again for maths sake, that's, you know, $180 a cow per day, potentially in lost income. Multiply that out by that the actual size of your herd and over a month, you know, you're looking, if it's a 300 cow herd, you're looking in the order of $16,000 a month in lost milk income. So it is certainly worth investigating if you don't already. 


Luke Ingenhoff: And assuming that those herds are drying their cows off 60 days before the next due date, a herd that consistently sits on an average days in milk of 220 days is presumably… has an average calving interval of about three months longer than what’s desired. And that's just ah, you can work that out just by, I suppose, taking that difference, you know, 220 is 50 higher than 170. So if we double that, we've got a projected average calving interval of 16 months. So yeah, that's a good way of looking at how stale a herd could be. 


Sheena Carter: Yep, sure. So I think, look, there's lots of value for everyone, obviously Tocal, Matt, you're doing this, this really well, you've got good systems in place to monitor herd performance and production data. So I think the key message here for other farmers is if you're not already doing something, and it doesn't have to be to the level that Tocal is doing with you, Luke, but there are certainly options there in understanding your herd’s reproductive performance. I would certainly recommend that people get in touch with a veterinarian or a consultant with skills in interpreting this data to make sure they're sort of setting the right targets for their herd and contexting it as we've discussed earlier.


Look, I think it's been a fantastic discussion today, and I'd like to thank you both very much for your time, your considered words and knowledge. It's been much appreciated, and I'm sure we'll speak again in a future podcast. So thank you, Luke. It's been great to have you onboard. Much appreciated. And thanks again, Matt, for your appearance again on The Business of Dairy podcast. 


Matt Brett: Thanks a lot, Sheena. Thanks Luke.. 


Sheena Carter: Thank you for listening to this month's The Business of Dairy podcast produced by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Dairy Business Advisory Unit. This series is also brought to you with funding and support from the Hunter Local Land Services. This month's show notes contain a transcript of the podcast and a link to the Tocal Dairy Monthly Business Report. We'd love you to share this podcast with your networks and feel free to send any feedback or suggestions for future episodes to You can also subscribe to our New South Wales DPI Dairy Facebook and DPI Livestock Twitter feed and view, or subscribe to our quarterly DPI Dairy newsletter using the links provided.