Research to improve dairy cow fertility

Research conducted by a final year Harper Adams University student could lead to improved detection of endometritis in dairy cows.

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Harper Adams dairy

Research conducted by a final year Harper Adams University student could lead to improved detection of endometritis in dairy cows.

Sarah Hurford, who studies BSc (Hons) Agriculture, has investigated post-calving infections of the reproductive tract, primarily endometritis, and associated risk factors.

Endometritis is an infection of the inner layer of the uterus and has an economic impact for dairy farmers as it can reduce fertility and also milk yield.

21-year-old Sarah, who was named British Grassland Society YFC Grass Farmer of the Future last year, said: “My literature review has shown that endometritis can cause a 20% reduction in conception rate and has around 40% prevalence in dairy cows.

“For my research, I trialled three methods of detecting endometritis with two Devonshire dairy farms from August to October last year.

“These methods involved conducting visual observations and using a Metricheck device to assess discharge from the cow, and finally the farm vet performed an ultrasound scan to measure fluid in the uterus.

“These observations were then combined with data collected from the farms, including breed and sex of the calf, whether the cow gave birth to twins and any assistance given during calving.”

Since returning to university following her placement year working for Tim Downes at The Farm in Longnor, Shropshire, Sarah has been analysing her results to form conclusions.

Sarah, from a family dairy farm in Colyton, Devon, said: “Initial results indicate that bearing twins does increase the risks of endometritis across all methods of detection.

“For one of the trial farms, beef breed calves were associated with higher incidence of endometritis detected using the Metricheck, whereas on the other farm, assistance at birth proved significant.

“What this study has shown is that using ultrasound is the ‘Gold Standard’ for detection, but given the expense of using this, the Metricheck has proven to be a cost-effective alternative, and this should be used in conjunction with traditional visual observations. The results also suggest that relying on observation alone will result in more than 12% of cases of endometritis being missed.

“Endometritis has high cost implications and using a device such as the Metricheck could enable farmers to detect and treat cows in a timely, cost-effective manner. Of course this will not only save money, but improve fertility and animal welfare.”

Sarah presented the results of her study in a poster at the TotalDairy seminars 2015 last month. She was awarded the prize for the best poster presented by a student.

During her time at Harper Adams, Sarah has been a member of the Ladies Rugby Team and was the Students’ Union Rag Treasurer during her second year of studies.

Last summer, she worked for Creedy Associates as a grassland advisor and hopes to return to the company following her examinations. In the future, Sarah would like to work as a dairy and grassland consultant.

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