for farmers and breeders

Context:

The sustainability of dairy cattle farming systems relies in large part on the ability of cows to maintain reproductive performance as they cope with the constraints imposed by environmental conditions and livestock practices. Reproductive performance is central to farm sustainability as it underpins cow productivity (lactation) and longevity (replacement risk).

At the herd level, good reproductive performance is crucial for economic sustainability whereas, at the individual level, it is an important factor that affects the cow’s health and welfare, and also the animal’s robustness. Genetic selection has been highly successful and has resulted in modern dairy cows with very high milk yields, but there has been a parallel reduction in fertility. Fertility problems include an increase in postpartum failure to return to oestrus, poor expression of oestrus, defective oogenesis, embryo survival and susceptibility to uterine infections. This has created a situation where, through decreased reproductive performance, farmers are losing control of a key component of cattle system sustainability.

 

Objectives:

The objectives of PROLIFIC are to unlock the potential for proactive herd management by providing the farmer with improved tools for on-farm reproductive monitoring and management. This will be achieved by a pluridisciplinary approach to eliminate the key scientific/methodological blockages and develop innovative solutions for a robust and sustainable improvement of fertility in cows. PROLIFIC will:

 

1) Develop models to support on farm decision at different levels: animal fertility, herd management, and socio-economic impact for the farm and the farmer. At the animal level, the models will enable to understand how all physiological factors are connected in a biological system and may generate system (dys)function. At the herd level, a reproductive management interface will be developed allowing description of estrus detection protocols, mating and insemination rules. At the system level, the objectives are to evaluate the biotechnical and economic consequences of different breeding, management and reproductive strategies so as to optimize cow reproduction systems in the face of increased environmental fluctuations (i.e feeding resources) due to societal demands for a more sustainable agriculture and climate change. 

 

2) Identify new fertility markers involved in the adaptation of the reproductive function to different environmental conditions, especially low input feeding systems

 

3) Identify the functional quantitative trait nucleotides for days till first luteal activity (based on progesterone measures) and estimate genomic breeding values using whole sequence information on individuals. A large number of dairy cows with progesterone records will be genotyped to find functional mutations in the DNA with an effect on cow fertility. The genomic information will be used for optimization of breeding strategies.

 

4) Study the adaptative response of animals to different feeding systems and management strategies

 

5) Demonstrate and evaluate under commercial conditions by using an existing system (Herd Navigator), the applicability of the knowledge and will deploy the decision support tools developed in the project at the farm level. It will also demonstrate the feasibility of transferring new fertility bio-markers into an in-line on-farm measuring system. The decision support tool will be deployed on at least 20 commercial farms that are using the Lattec Herd Navigator system.

6) Develop a reproductive management timing optimizer that will allow farmers to construct a set of rules for reproductive management at herd level using a simple interface. The tool will then calculate expected reproductive performance outcomes for the herd. This tool will be presented at farmer meetings, where the value of the tool for adjusting reproductive management to local conditions will be emphasized, and the possibility of doing case studies for individual farms.