On 1 June 2015, the New Zealand dairy industry committed to a voluntary ban on calving induction, after phasing it out over a prolonged period. On 30 April 2015, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria voted to follow a similar path – aiming to proactively phase out calving induction for good. As of right now, Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) is working closely with the Australian Cattle Veterinarians and other industry stakeholders to develop a strategy for transitioning to zero routine use of induction in Australia over the next several years. This policy change comes about after years of work in improving dairy reproductive management and a great deal of discussion, including a joint ADF and Dairy Australia forum dedicated to a review of the issue.
A similar approach to the New Zealand phase-out will be implemented.*
*In 2010, the New Zealand Veterinary Association, DairyNZ, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand and Federated Farmers of New Zealand agreed that the use of routine calving inductions for management purposes had to be phased out via annual reducing limits. The limits were applied gradually to allow time for farmers to adjust to the change: in 2010/11, the limit was set at 15% of the herd’s total size, reducing to 8% in 2011/12 and then 4% from 2012. Earlier this year, induction was banned for good for management purposes. Farmers wanting to use it for health purposes must apply to their dairy company, via their veterinarian, for special dispensation. Vets are required to keep records of cows induced.
The Veterinary Council of New Zealand statement on calving induction can be read here.
So what does this mean for farmers? Well, not much for some. According to Dairy Australia’s animal husbandry survey results, the number of cows we induce actually halved between 2012 and 2014. The ADF states that less than 2 per cent of cows nationally are now being induced. Many producers I’ve discussed this with have already decided to stop using induction altogether, either for their own personal reasons or in anticipation of this exact situation.
Seasonal calving farmers have the most concerns, as they face tight time constraints on herd reproduction. In response to this, Dairy Australia recently produced two case study videos, based in the South West and Gippsland, featuring seasonally calving farmers who independently decided to phase out induction. They’re well worth a watch, especially if you’ve got a spare five minutes while waiting at the school bus-stop or over a morning cup of coffee.
What it all boils down to, is that induction is far from being the only method of coping with late calvers. When used well, it has had some utility. When used inappropriately (i.e. late, unplanned, and without the guidance of early pregnancy test results), it has no benefits for future seasonal fertility at all. Seasonal herds can survive without calving induction – the case studies prove this to be possible.
By far the best way of coping without induction is to prevent or reduce the number of late calving cows in the first place, through excellent herd reproductive management. This also has the effect of increasing your supply of replacement heifers, allowing greater flexibility in selling late calving cows. By combining good management with technologies such as sexed semen and synchrony, and planned strategies such as mating well-grown yearling heifers to AI, farmers are able to significantly increase heifer numbers and reduce their reliance on induction.
Doing it right means paying attention to all key management areas, including heifer management, cow health and nutrition, genetic selection, heat detection, AI technique and bull management. Other than reducing reliance on calving induction, good fertility has a whole raft of flow-on benefits as well, including a more profitable herd, improved labour management and a reduction in AI costs.
Fertility is a top priority identified by dairy farmers and an area that receives significant funding for research, development and extension. It’s also a tricky space to improve, requiring competency over multiple areas. A good place to start for those seeking formal support is the InCalf section of the Dairy Australia website, DEDJTR InCharge Fertility Workshops or NCDE courses, and/or consultants within your area (some vet clinics offer strong support for herd management, and a list of Dairy Australia’s highly skilled Repro Right advisors can be downloaded here). If you rely on induction to make your system work, now is a good time to start a conversation with your vet or reproductive advisor.
How will the phase-out of induction affect you, and what changes are you planning to manage your herd’s calving pattern in future? Let me know in the comments below.