Ruminant Population Health

Improving fertility in UK dairy herds

Reproductive performance is a key factor in the profitability and environmental sustainability of dairy farms. While a very large volume of research already exists in this area, much of it concerns issues affecting fertility at cow level, so it can be difficult for farmers and vets to use it effectively to make management decisions for whole herds.

Here at The University of Nottingham, we’re working to improve understanding of the factors influencing herd-level reproductive performance. We’re also integrating our findings with existing data to create a body of knowledge that is useable, practical and relevant.

Spotlight project

Fresh perspectives on a complex challenge

Working closely with farmers and vets nationwide, we are conducting a number of targeted projects, including ‘Evidence-based decisions to improve dairy herd fertility’ (2016-2020), funded by AHDB Dairy and ‘Patterns in oestrus detection and the oestrus cycles of dairy cows’ (2013-2019), funded by The University of Nottingham.

To date, we’ve developed the following key findings:

  • Although there are relatively large and statistically significant associations between reproductive outcomes and clinical lameness, mastitis and somatic cell count status, improving these at herd level is unlikely to make an appreciable difference to the herd’s reproductive performance in most plausible situations
  • The oestrous cycle length in modern dairy cows is often longer than the commonly accepted normal range of 18-24 days, and it may be time to establish an alternative normal range. Individual cows also have relatively inconsistent cycle lengths
  • Considerable insight can be derived from routinely recorded dairy herd data, but the increasing volume and variety of data brings new challenges in informatics and analytics

Sharing knowledge and supporting decision-making

We are very active in knowledge exchange with both farmers and vets and, as a result, findings from our research have been communicated extensively at national and international veterinary conferences, as well as smaller-scale farmer meetings and discussion groups.

Our existing links with software development companies active in the dairy sector will provide a route for new and refined approaches to reproductive monitoring and decision-making, which can be implemented by farmers and vets.

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  • AHDB Dairy
  • University of Nottingham


Ruminant Population Health

School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
University of Nottingham
Sutton Bonington Campus
Leicestershire, LE12 5RD