World Buiatrics Congress in Portugal: synchronized breeding and solar haemorrhages/ruminal acidosis

Published: 2012-08-31 21:39:47
Author: Jan Hulsen

In June, three of us from Vetvice (Joep Driessen, Bertjan Westerlaan and myself) travelled to Lisbon for the World Buiatrics Congress, the biennial world congress in the field of bovine medicine. Joep and Bertjan had been invited to give a number of workshops and a presentation. My own duties were merely to pay close attention and pick up as much as possible.

The organisation was excellent and the programme was interesting, with sufficient practical orientation. I also found it very worthwhile and fun to catch up with all of our international colleagues, and to meet new ones.


Besides a wealth of new nuggets of information, insights and things that suddenly fell into place, I came away with two main impressions:


The first of these was synchronized breeding. I was very surprised to find a relatively high degree of interest and support among the veterinarians present for the use of synchronized breeding programmes such as OvSync. These are programmes in which groups of cows and heifers are brought into heat with hormone injections, so they can be inseminated on a scheduled date.
We at Vetvice are convinced that widespread use of hormone programmes such as these is undesirable, but also that it will lead to strong resistance in society, going hand in hand with a decline in the market value of milk and dairy products plus a poor image for dairy farms and working on a dairy farm. In short, fertility hormones should be administered only to cows with fertility problems.


Synchronized breeding programmes are a wolf in sheep’s clothing: you think you’re gaining something through labour efficiency and working systematically, but you lose much more due to reputation damage and a drop in the value of milk and dairy products. Our advice is to use activity meters or other forms of electronic heat detection in the dairy cattle and mounting detectors in the case of heifers. For a number of years now, our barn design advice has taken account of the fact that cows can be separated automatically based on alerts from activity meters. And then inseminated in the separation area.


The second thing that struck me concerned the topic of hoof health. As several speakers mentioned, losses due to lameness and hoof problems are underestimated. It is the highest-yielding cows that go lame first and studies always assess milk production loss in relation to the herd average, whereas it should be assessed in relation to the yield of the best cows.
In addition, ass. professor Rodrigo Bicalho of Cornell University articulated very concisely the growing view that we in the dairy industry have focused far too much on nutrition, in recent decades, as the cause of diffuse solar haemorrhages. To sum up his argument: diffuse solar haemorrhages are the result of excessive stress due to standing for too long. “Forget about subclinical ruminal acidosis (SARA).”


To improve hoof health, you need to reduce the standing time of high-risk cows, i.e. transition cows and cows in early lactation. He has seen major improvements on large farms, when cows with slight lameness were changed from thrice-daily to twice-daily milking, resulting in much less standing around in the holding area and more time to go and rest in a cubicle.
In a nutshell, the current line of thinking is that every cow has a period in early lactation when her hooves are less able to bear weight and, certainly during that period, it is vital to make sure she does not overstress her hooves. This means good cubicles, one feeding space per cow, a comfortable holding area and never more than an hour’s wait before milking, or 45 minutes in the case of thrice-daily milking.

This has been Vetvice’s advice for the past 10 years. Suggested reading: Building for the cow and the newly revised, fully updated Hoof Signals.



Jan Hulsen ([email protected])

Back to overview