Dairy Australia Adviser Update - January 2016

Kathryn Davis, Program Manager, Animal Health & Fertility, Dairy Australia.

Calving induction is on the way out.

dairy_australia_logoCalving induction is mainly employed in pasture-based dairy farming systems to deliver a tight seasonal calving pattern to increase productivity from available pasture. Induction involves injection of mid to late pregnant cows with an artificial hormone to initiate the birthing process and can result in higher than normal incidence of retained foetal membranes and metritis.

Calves born prematurely may be stillborn, need extra care or euthanasia at birth. Pressure has been mounting from within the dairy industry, consumers, trade partners and animal welfare groups to ban its use due to animal welfare, product quality and ethical concerns.

A recent review of the dairy industry’s policy on calving induction decided that the practice should be phased out. The Australian Dairy Industry Council, the peak body representing both dairy farmers and milk processors, has agreed to the introduction of industry targets to gradually phase out the practice.

Calving induction is largely confined to dairy herds in southern Victoria and Tasmania and is unusual in other parts of the world. The New Zealand dairy industry has phased out calving inductions and recently moved to zero routine inductions.

Many Australian dairy farmers with seasonal calving systems have never used induction or have moved to alternative methods to manage late calving cows and reduce empty rates.

However there are some farmers that still routinely induce calving in a variable proportion of cows in their herd (amounting to less than 1.5% of the national herd in 2015).

In 2016 routine induction will be limited to a maximum of 15% of cows within a herd, unless the farmer has implemented a fertility management plan or is granted a dispensation for exceptional circumstances beyond their control. The maximum target will be reviewed yearly and revised as necessary to achieve an orderly phasing out of the practice.

A Dispensation Panel will be set up composed of representatives from Australian Dairy Farmers, the Australian Cattle Veterinarians special interest group and the Australian Dairy Processors Federation with assistance from Dairy Australia. The Dispensation Panel will develop a set of guidelines for exemptions to the routine calving induction targets.

The dairy industry will also be working closely with veterinarians servicing affected farms to identify issues that may be causing high rates of routing calving induction in an effort to understand the key issues and develop practical strategies to reduce dependency on calving induction.

Another important message for farmers and herd advisers is that late inductions (performed within 4-6 weeks of the due calving date) provide no overall reproductive benefit for the herd and should not be performed except for the welfare of the cow or her calf.

Dairy Australia will be organising a workshop on 12th February 2016 for cattle veterinarians servicing dairy farms in the affected regions. This will provide details of the implementation of the new industry policy on calving induction.

Key items for discussion will be the dispensation process, fertility management plans, explaining the reporting template and reinforcing the need to cease late inductions. Invitations will be sent out to the relevant veterinary practices.

Warrnambool Veterinary is committed to assisting dairy farmers make the necessary changes, and will provide advice to farmers as to the best strategies to use in their individual situations. Talk to a cattle vet at Warrnambool Veterinary for advice today.