The tough fodder conditions facing many Irish farmers are expected to lead to an increase in abortions in livestock this summer, fertility specialists have warned.

Qualified vet and reproduction specialist Joyce Voogt from LIC travelled from New Zealand for a series of talks run by AI Services and Teagasc.

She addressed farmers at a fertility day held at the Rankin family’s farm in Newtownards, Co. Down, on Monday.

The calving pen at the Rankin farm in Co. Down

When is a cow most likely to abort?

Voogt told the group that the vast majority of pregnancies are lost within the first two weeks.

“We have got a huge national fertility study going on in New Zealand and one of the things they were looking at was embryo loss and when it occurs,” she said.

“Where nutrition comes into fertility is in the month before and the month after calving – we call that the ‘transition period’ – and transition management of cows is incredibly important for both egg health and uterine health.”

“Cows which have been managed well through the transition produce strong, good healthy eggs.

Healthy eggs produce a stronger heat and healthier embryos; healthier embryos going into a healthier uterus are more likely to form a successful pregnancy – so it’s an extremely important thing for fertility.

“Body scoring is a hugely important thing to get right so they don’t lose more than 0.6 of a body condition score at the most between calving and mating.

“Cows that are condition-stripping during mating lose fertility.”

Fodder shortage

Sam Campbell, chief executive of AI Services, said that the fodder shortage and its effect on cow nutrition was likely to exacerbate problems.

He said in many parts of the island farmers had their “backs against the wall”.

“It is fairly dire straits the further south you go. Loss of embryos could be a real problem this year,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges going forward this year.”

Voogt explained that the effect on fertility was unlikely to be seen on cows just about to calve, but in the next service period after.

“It is going to be a real challenge,” she added. “We’re going to come on fast pasture growth and availability right on mating and there might be some changes of the diet which we will have to manage – but the rule of thumb with any dietary change is to just make it as gradual as you can.

“In a way it’s the balancing act of predicting when your grass is going to take off and making sure you are ramping down your cake [concentrate] just so you are getting that balance nice to make a smooth transition.”