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Simple ways to make things happen

May 2008

THE AXFORDS

Who: Michael and Michelle Axford
Where: Gippsland
What: 245-cow split-calving herd
  • Prepare for peak employment times 
  • Match the farm system to the people 
  • Revise employment needs
  • Recruit enough people to handle the busy times
  • Don't forget to make use of off-farm people 

Gippsland dairy farmers Michael and Michelle Axford have some simple ideas to make sure herd fertility tasks get done during the busy joining period. And what makes it even easier is that they can set most of it up long before things get hectic.

With a 245-cow split-calving herd, Michelle working off farm and a young family, life is always busy for the Axfords. The home PC is the heart of their system to ensure their plans turn into action.

Michelle’s involvement with the InCalf program over several years means the couple has a good understanding of managing herd fertility.

“We know what needs doing and the intention is always there. But it’s easy for things to slip at times of peak employment demands, such as joining and harvest. We came up with some simple ways to take some of the ‘sting’ out of that busy period,” said Mr Axford.

The Axfords' reminder system

Their ideas include a system of automatic reminders, reviewing casual labour needs and changing their AI program to reduce the pressure during the first round of inseminations.

Both avid computer users, the couple has set up automatic reminders in Microsoft Outlook.

“It’s the obvious reminder system for us. The computer is the ‘hub’ of everything else we organise so we will see the reminders without trying. And we can set them up months in advance,” said Mr Axford.

For example, reminders have already been set for the following herd fertility activities in the lead up to the spring joining period:

  • July: book the vet to health check bulls and also review numbers needed
  • July: order drugs for the oestrus synchronisation program
  • July: book the AI technician to help with the first cycle of artificial insemination (AI)
  • September 19: apply tail paint
  • September 19: start pre-mating heat detection (run until Oct 19)
  • October 1: semen delivered
  • October 10: vet checks and treats (if needed) non-cycling cows
  • October 13: synchronisation program starts
  • October 23: mating start date (blanket AI)
  • November 13: start monitoring heats and AI according to heats detected
  • December 4: bulls go in with herd
  • January 1: bulls come out
  • February 13: pregnancy testing

Look ahead to employment needs

The Axfords have also revised their approach to casual employees during the season’s peak. They usually employ an overseas student for four to six weeks during spring.

“From now on we’ll extend that period so the student arrives in October to help with the lead up to mating. We’ve done the figures and it’s not an added cost but a profitable investment,” he said.

Adapt farm systems to fit the people

To streamline employment demands during the insemination period, the Axfords will use an oestrus synchronisation program this year.

“In spring, there’s a limit to the amount of time and energy we have for heat detection. We’ve decided to focus our heat detection efforts on pre-mating so we can identify non-cyclers and treat them early if needed,” he said.

“Synchronisation will add to our costs, but not nearly as much as empty cows would. It will pay for itself through higher milk production and less stress,” said Mr Axford.

Use off-farm people to ease the load

Synchronisation will allow the Axfords to blanket inseminate without heat detection. A local AI technician will be booked to help with the first round of inseminations which would otherwise create a period of intense labour needs during the already busy period. 

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