A comprehensive database was established on the milk production and reproductive performance of dairy cows in 19 selected herds in Northern Ireland, varying in size, management system and genetic merit. Data were obtained for 2471 cows, 1775 of which calved in a second year, and 693 were culled from the herd for specific reasons. The estimated mean rate of heat detection (assessed by the interheat interval during the main breeding season) in all the herds was 71 per cent, with a range from 53 to 92 per cent. The average conception rate to first insemination was 37.1 per cent (range 21 to 66 per cent). The average calving interval for the retained cows was 407.2 days (range 359 to 448 days). Twenty.eight per cent of the cows that calved were culled, with infertility being the largest single reason (26.8 per cent of the cows culled). There were major differences in reproductive performance between the herds, but heat detection rate, conception rate and calving interval did not appear to be affected by a herd's genetic merit. The herds with shorter calving intervals were characterised by better heat detection efficiency (83 v 61 per cent, P<0.01), a shorter interval from calving to first insemination (74 v 97 days; P<0.05), a higher conception rate to first insemination (45 v 34 per cent, P>0.10) and a lower removal rate (23 v 37 per cent, P<0.01). Furthermore, the cows in these herds had lower body condition scores (BCS) in the dry period (3.0 v 3.3; P<0.05) but lost less body condition in early lactation (0.3 v 0.6 BCS units, P<0.05). These results show that dairy herd fertility in Northern Ireland is generally low and similar to that previously reported for England and the USA, but that in some herds changes in herd management practices improved the cows' fertility.
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