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15th July, 2018

DAIRY HERD MANAGEMENT IN A FODDER CRISIS

This will be a challenging year for breeding programmes for spring calving in 2019. The seeds have already been set which dictate both egg quality and uterine environment for development of the early stage embryo after breeding in 3 to 5 weeks time.

The challenges of a late spring abound inside the farm gate. Farmers are resilient by nature. Longer days with a mild spell and sunshine enable one to rejuvenate a weakened mindset.  The expectation of milder weather is needed to address the backlog of jobs to be completed.  Slurry tanks are full and opportunities to apply fertiliser have been limited.  Indeed, cows which would normally be grazing by day are still housed on a full-time basis.

Farmers which have managed to graze the first round of their eligible platform are now faced with no regrowth’s and no silage to supplement their cows. Flat rate feeding of 3Kg of supplemental concentrates as advice for freshly calved cows on grass is now a distant cry from the wilderness!

It doesn’t make economic sense aside from the welfare challenges created by inducing cows to lose excessive BCS in early lactation. Get advice on supplemental ration requirements for your herd where fodder is limited.  Remember, that the grazing will change rapidly with an improvement in the weather.  You need to have cows that are fit to both produce the milk solids and successfully go back in calf.

Inside the farm gate we are still faced with upwards of 20% of the herd to calve. This group of dry cows will tend to include a higher proportion carrying twins, older cows, over conditioned cows and lame cows.  This group is easily forgotten with the challenges of caring for the milking herd.

Get the help needed to manage both your late calvers and calves. Cryptosporidium scours in calves is now a major problem on many farms.  Mortality rates can be high and subsequent reproductive performance in later life can be significantly impaired.  The primary challenge in calf houses at this stage of the calving season is maintaining a healthy environment limiting the spread of disease.

Colostrum quality and quantity is a major challenge with late calvers. You have to avoid any setbacks in these late calvers as they approach full-term.  As group size in the dry cow group reduces, farmers physiologically pay less attention to their requirements.

The financial gain to the business has not been tapped in the past by optimal management of late calvers. Refocus your energies now and ensure that these cows transition smoothly from the dry cow to the lactating phase after production cycle.

You may not comprehend that your herd is now preparing for the breeding programme which will begin in 3 to 5 weeks. The imminent fodder crisis and the peripheral management limitations have put your herd on the back foot.

Fit cows will have their first heat by 3 weeks after calving. Over 90% of these heats are silent. However, there is an association between the timing of the first heat and the probability that your cows will be back in calf by the end of the breeding season.

Cows can recover after poor dry cow/fresh cow transition management by a positive experience in the first 6 weeks after calving. The current fodder crisis scenario will drive cows into a deep anoestrus state.  This means that they are unlikely to resume heat cycles before the end of the breeding season.

Hormonal cocktails to force cows to be bred if not detected naturally will meet with poor success. You have to focus on optimising herd health and you will get your cows to establish pregnancies.

Primary vaccination for Leptospirosis, BVD and IBR should be complete now. Booster vaccinations need to be completed prior to start of the breeding season. Your primary focus has to be fit cows prior to any vaccination programme.  The protective barrier to infection disease created by vaccination will be diminished in immunocompetent cows.  This includes cows that are lame, mastitic, poor BCS or calved in the 2 weeks prior to vaccination when their immunocompetence is at its’ lowest point in the production cycle.

In conclusion when you cannot graze grass, don’t have grass to graze or don’t have silage available, it will pay to feed supplemental concentrates from both a herd welfare basis and a sustainable food production system

 

Dr. Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at www.reprodoc.ie

 

Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent 27th March 2018.

 

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