Management of heat stress to improve fertility in dairy cows in Israel

Israel Flamenbaum, Nadav Galon
Journal of Reproduction and Development 2010, 56 Suppl: S36-41
Israel has about 100,000 dairy cows mostly all of Israeli-Holstein-breed, kept in close to 1000 dairy farms. Most farms are distributed along the Mediterranean Sea coast and in the hot internal valleys. According to the Israeli Herd book the average annual milk production, per cow in 2008 was 11,460 kg, with 3.7% fat and 3.2% protein. Israel's climate is considered "subtropical dry" or Mediterranean, characterized by warm and dry summer with day temperatures above 30 C and relative humidity ranging from 50 to 90%. Climatic limitations brought dairy farmers to develop and implement new technologies and management practices that would enable high milk production and reproduction in summers. In the last three decades the Ministry of Agriculture research units, the extension service and dairy farmers conducted a series of trials and surveys in order to develop an efficient cooling system that will obtain and maintain high milk yield and good reproduction during the hot and humid summer. The cooling system commonly used in Israel is based on a combination of frequent direct watering of the cows, followed by forced ventilation air blowing onto the cows. The system was developed in Israel nearly 30 years ago. A typical cycle is five minutes long and consists of 30 sec of watering followed by 4.5 min of forced ventilation. Providing the cows with 5-7 cooling sessions per day, 30-45 min each, allowed cows, producing 25-30 kg of milk per day to maintain their body temperature below 39.0 C, throughout the day time, on a typical Israeli summer day. At the same time, non-cooled cows had high body temperatures (above 39.5 C), during some part of the daytime and returned to normal body temperatures (below 39.0 C), only for a few hours late at night. In an experiment conducted in 1985-86, conception rate (CR) of cows, cooled as described above, was significantly higher than of non-cooled cows (59 vs. 17% and 57 vs. 17%), for first insemination and for all inseminations, respectively. Pregnancy rate (the amount of pregnant cows out of the eligible cows in the herd) calculated for 90, 120 and 150 days after calving differed significantly between the groups, (44, 59 and 73% vs., 5, 11 and 11%), in cooled and non-cooled cows, respectively. CR and pregnancy rates obtained in intensively cooled herds in this experiment were similar to those obtained during the winter of that year, in commercial dairy farms in Israel. Differently from the results described above, when cows in summer were intensively cooled, only for a period of 2 days before and 8 days after A.I, CR failed to improve (31 and 36%), in cooled and non-cooled cows, respectively. These results offer a conclusion that cows must be intensively cooled and must maintain normal body temperatures during the entire day and during the whole summer. i.e. the entire reproductive process from follicular development until implantation of the embryo in the uterus, in order to express cow's full reproductive potential in Israeli summer conditions. The effect of cooling intensity on cow's productive and reproductive traits was studied in a wide survey, during four consecutive years (1998-2001), on 14 farms, averaging 300 milking cows each, all located in the coastal plain of Israel. Farms were categorized into three different groups according to the intensity of summer cooling. "Intensive" (7.5 cumulative cooling hours per day), "Moderate" (4.5 cumulative hours per day) and "No-cooling" at all. CR was 56, 53 and 54%, and 40, 34 and 15%, for primiparous (P < 0.01) and 47, 46 and 43%, and 34, 34 and 17% for multiparous cows (P < 0.01), in the "intensive", "moderate", and "no cooling" groups, in winter and summer, respectively. In another survey based on the Israeli Herd Book data from 2005, using elite yielding herds (with average annual milk production per cow of more than 13,000 kg), the average CR of intensive cooled herds was 39 and 19%, in winter and summer respectively, compared to 39 and 12%, respectively, in non-cooled high yielding herds (P < 0.01). This indicates that intensive cooling in summer can reduce by half the summer drop in CR, even in very high yielding herds. The Ministry of Agriculture extension service, in cooperation with the Israel Cattle Breeders Association (ICBA), developed a computerized report called "Summer to Winter (S:W) Performance Ratio", based on the "Israeli Herd book" data from more than 300 herds. The higher the ratio is for productive and reproductive traits, the better a farm handles summer negative effects on cow's performance. Based on the S:W ratio of each herd in 2007, we quantified the overall effect of intensive cooling in summer on the cow's whole year performance. Data from 24 farms with the highest S:W ratio were compared with data from 24 farms with the lowest S:W ratio. The comparison showed that well cooled cows in Israeli summer added approximately 700 kg of milk to cow's lactation, an increase of 6.5% in its annual production. Summer CR were significantly higher in the highest S:W ratio farms, compared with the lowest ones (27 vs. 19%), and compared to those obtained in same groups in winter (40 vs. 36%), respectively. High S: W ratio herds reached in summer conception rate of 70% of their winter CR, compared to only 50% in the lowest S:W ratio farms inseminated in same period. Trials conducted in the last 10 years show clearly that intensive cooling of high yielding cows (above 45 kg daily) in summer cannot completely eliminate summer decline in CR (as was achieved two decades ago when daily production was less than 30 kg). These high yielding cows despite being intensively cooled could not maintain normal body temperature all day long. This fact brought Israeli researchers to look for hormonal treatments to improve cow's summer fertility, among them elevating post insemination blood progesterone, GnRH treatment at time of insemination to optimise insemination time, improvement of egg quality by elimination of aged follicles produced during heat stress and the use of timed AI and embryo transfer. Part of these treatments improved summer CR when combined with intensive cooling. Cooling Intensification combined with hormonal therapy, management and nutritional practices are expected to minimize the gap between summer and winter CR obtained in Israel in the future.

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