It’s hard to believe mating season is just around the corner

It’s hard to believe mating season is just around the corner

23 September 2018

Improving six week in-calf rates is often high on the agenda and many farmers report a higher rate makes the job more enjoyable and the farm more profitable.

The average six week in-calf rate on Kiwi farms is currently around 65 percent. The sector target is 78 percent, which is a challenging goal but some farmers are already hitting it.

So what are those farmers doing differently?

Hawke’s Bay dairy farmer Mike Sales dramatically improved the in-calf rate at the 650-cow farm he managed with his wife Angela in Rotorua. The pair are now equity managers for a 1200-cow farm in Patoka.

Over four years Mike, Angela and their team managed to increase the in-calf rate from 52 percent to 78 percent just by making small changes.

One key area Mike focused on was ensuring cows hit optimum body condition scores (BCS) pre-calving. He aimed for a BCS of five for cows and 5.5 for heifers.

He says BCS targets are extremely important because if cows are too light or too heavy they won’t come in heat.

"Your BCS target is your lifeline. It’s psychological for the cow; if she’s at the right weight she knows she’s ready to be in-calf," he says.

"After calving we try to hit 4.5 BCS. In the lead-up to mating, we’ll increase the protein percentage in the feed supplement in the shed to give them more energy and help them reach their BCS target."

Mike also focused on training all his staff to ensure they knew what signs to look for when a cow is on heat. He believes it’s important the whole team is trained in this area, not just senior staff, as improving in-calf rates is a team effort.

Mike says record keeping is equally as important.

"After three weeks of recording during pre-mating, we have a list of those that didn’t cycle. We can then analyse why and decide what treatment option we will take.

"It always pays to record what’s going on on-farm. It’s an additional workload but once you do it regularly it becomes a habit and it pays off."

He says communication is vital so your team understands what you’re trying to achieve.

Finally, Mike encouraged farmers with low in-calf rates to remain optimistic.

"It’s a long-term process. Consistency is key," he says.

For more information about improving your herd’s reproductive performance, visit

Samantha Tennent - DairyNZ developer