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17th August, 2022

Dairy cow management with an imminent superlevy

Article by Dr. Dan Ryan  published in the Farming Independent September 27th, 2011.

Superlevy North v’s South.

The implications of a superlevy on excess milk production above quota available have been highlighted in the past month.  In contrast, a superlevy will not pertain in the North of Ireland.  This is now the main market for Autumn calving stock.  Autumn calving has begun in the  North while this aspect of the dairy industry is in demise in the South.  The costs of milk production and quota management are the primary detractors to this practice.

Superlevy implications for the empty cow.

Many farmers will have their milk quota full by the end of September, with no quota available for Spring-calving in February/ March.  Empty cows are currently being  identified  by scanning.  These are the first cows to be removed from the system.  Cull cow prices are excellent for good feeder cows.  However, there is poor demand for the small Jersey Cross cow.  My recommendation here has been to recycle them as replacements next year if they have been scanned as reproductively sound.  The empty Holstein Friesian cows are being dried off early this year.  They will be sold as feeder cows.  Previously these cows were milked through the Winter and recycled for breeding.  With excess breeding stock on most farms and quota management a major issue, this practice will not continue.

Milk price.

The superlevy scenario is being exacerbated by current milk price.  High milk solids for late lactation milk command a price up to 44 cents/litre.  Some farmers are being advised to continue milking cows at this milk price and still make a profit with a penalty of 28 cents/litre.  Once a day milking with zero concentrates on a grass-based diet is currently practiced by these farmers.

Body Condition Score(BCS).

The major risk of sacrificing BCS now is the detrimental effect on reproductive performance after calving next year.  Cows need to achieve a BCS of 3.0 at drying off and to maintain same until they calve.  First lactation cows and those carrying twins are most vulnerable to poor  BCS.  It is advisable to dry these cows for 12 weeks if BCS is poor.  Supplemental feeding of concentrates to cows to improve BCS will not increase calf size and associated calving difficulty until cows are greater than seven months pregnant.  Now is the time to ensure your cows  achieve the correct BCS.

Once a day milking.

Many farmers are being advised to go to once a day milking when faced with a superlevy situation. Care has to be taken that the welfare of the cow does not suffer.  The cow has to be fed to meet her requirements for maintenance, BCS, milk production and pregnancy. However, many farmers complain that introducing cows to once a day milking is very stressful when cows are producing over 25 litres on twice a day milking regimen.

Farmers who  continue with once a day milking, zero concentrates and a grass-based diet for freshly calved cows next Spring will impair the welfare of the cow.  This system of production requires a cow with a low genetic potential for milk production.  However, management practices which cause excessive BCS loss should not be tolerated on the basis of animal welfare and the quality of milk supplied to the food chain.

Dry cow management.

Many dairy herds will be dried off in the next month.  Now is an ideal opportunity to prepare for dry cow management.  Silage analysis for feed value and minerals is a critical element of a preventative health management programme(PHMP).  Ensure your cows get a specific mineral supplement to meet their requirements.  Specific blends may be more expensive but will be more beneficial in a PHMP. Other options  of mineral supplementation in the dry cow period include mineral licks and boluses.  In my opinion, the dusting of a specific mineral supplement on the silage fed to the cow on a daily basis is the best approach in a PHMP.

Animal health.

A common practice observed now is the vaccination against salmonella while the pregnancy scanning is underway.  As cows reach the final trimester of pregnancy they are vulnerable to abortion from diseases such as leptospirosis, salmonella and neospora.  Liverfluke and  stomach fluke will depress the immune system of your cows to these diseases.

A fit cow will generally be able to fight off any of these diseases if her immune system is functionally correct.  Indeed it should be recognized that the response to vaccination programmes is poor if this is not the case.

The incidence of neospora cases will increase as cows are housed.  Dogs and foxs are the intermediate host.  Contamination of feed by these animals can result in abortion storms plus mummification of pregnancies.  We encountered one case recently where 30 Autumn calvers aborted and scanning revealed a further 10 with mummified foetii in a herd of 80 Autumn calving cows.  Ensure dogs are not allowed to access feed faces for dry cows.


Superlevy will pertain in the current year.  Ensure  your cows achieve a BCS of 3.0 by eight weeks pre-calving.  Maintain BCS during the final eight weeks pre-calving.  Avoid BCS loss over 0.5 in the first 40 days post calving.  Once a day milking may suit cows with a low genetic potential for milk production and can be very stressful on cows when introduced in mid-lactation.