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23rd February, 2019

Act now and prevent a fodder crisis on your farm


Article by Dr. Dan Ryan published in the Farming Independent October 16, 2012

The potential impact of a fodder crisis is the primary topic of conversation on farm visits over the past month.  When combined with the price of milk and cost of concentrates, farmers are faced with difficult decisions.

The reality at farm level is one where farmers have far greater stock numbers than quota available. Plans toward a 50% increase in milk production post quota have already been implemented on many farms.  However, the clinical symptoms associated with milk production in 2012 are now in evidence at farm level.

The body condition score (BCS) of cows and size of in-calf heifers is currently too low on many farms.  Grass dry matter is low resulting in high passage rates and a loss of BCS in many dairy herds.  It will pay to supplement concentrates now to your dairy cows if BCS is below the target of 3.0

The breeding programme for 2013 is affected by your dairy herd management now.  One of the primary areas affecting outcome in 2013 is the size of your in-calf heifers.  In-calf heifers need to achieve a target weight at calving with BCS maintained in the eight week period prior to calving. Feed a growing ration to undersized heifers.  It will pay to group heifers by size if the group is uneven in size.  You will need to have accurate ageing of pregnancies to ensure concentrate supplementation can be safely implemented until the heifers are seven months pregnant.

Silage quantity and quality are issues to be dealt with this autumn. Large quantities of baled silage are currently being sold at between €25 and €40 per bale. The quality of the silage should be assessed before purchase. Poor quality baled silage will cause health problems and consequent reproductive impairment next year.

Baled silage with a DMD of 65 has a maximum value of €28 when compared with a concentrate ration priced at €285 per tonne.  Many farmers are currently panic buying baled silage at €35 per bale with a shipping cost of €10 per bale to West Limerick and North Kerry.  Fodder beet and straw are alternatively feedstuffs to be considered as part of the total diet in an imminent feed shortage.

The standard practice of recycling empty fit cows on many farms will not pertain this year.  These cows are currently being sold through the marts if feed is limiting on the farm.  We have encountered cases where farmers have purchased Holstein-Friesian cows due to calve in March and April 2013 averaging €285. Some farmers are being forced to sell because of overstocking, silage reserves are insufficient and the banks will not facilitate the purchase of feedstuffs.

It is now time to establish the health status of your dairy herd.  A bulk milk sample will establish the level of infection associated with various diseases including BVD, IBR, Neospora, Ostertagia and liver fluke.  You will need samples to assess the level of infestation with stomach fluke.  Treatments for stomach worms and fluke are warranted prior to vaccination against other diseases.  Heavy infestations with stomach worms and fluke will depress the immune system.  The response to a vaccination programme is dependent on immune health status.

In my opinion, IBR and related viral infections are causing the most severe health problems and consequent impaired reproductive performance.  Enhanced biosecurity is required to prevent the spread of this disease associated with a vaccination programme in cows, which are not immune-compromised.  IBR vaccination programmes entail the use of either dead or live vaccines.  The live vaccine is warranted where clinical problems pertain and a rapid response is required.

Ensure your in-calf heifers are vaccinated against IBR prior to entering the dairy herd if a vaccination programme is in place.  First calvers are faced with stresses, associated with a new social order, milk production, uterine repair and continued growth in size.  If not vaccinated, first calvers will easily become infected in early lactation.

In conclusion, it will pay to achieve and maintain a BCS of 3.0 in the eight week dry cow period.  Identify and treat cows for infectious diseases.  Your herd management now will impact reproductive performance in the Spring of 2013.