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23rd February, 2019

Feed shortages and cash flow issues result in strict culling

Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan in The Farming Independent November 20,2012.

Cows are now indoors on a fulltime basis on most farms.  Many farmers have started to dry off cows calving in January and February. Indeed on some farms that I visit the entire herd has been dried off for a number of reasons.

Cows have come through a tough grazing season and body condition score is poor if concentrates were not supplemented.  Silage quality on many farms has a DMD of 60-65.

Without concentrate supplementation, farmers found that cows completely dried up.  Both liver and stomach fluke infestations are also high this autumn.

Many farmers see this time as an opportunity to treat cows now they are indoors and dried off.


If body condition score is low, it will have repercussions next spring.  farm visits over the past month have revealed that a lot of farmers also face cash flow problems.

This stemmed from a scenerio where many have not received a milk cheque since July as supplementary feed was offset against milk sales. Now they don’t have enough in the bank to buy concentrates.

In previous years farmers would have considered breeding empty cows from spring calving programmes for autumn calving in the following year.

But this year, empty cows and even late calvers due to calve from May through July next year are being culled.

Feed shortages, cash flow problems and poor profitability with current milk prices have eliminated any tolerance for empty cows or late spring calvers over the winter months.

There is still a relatively small cohort of dairy farmers which either focus on autumn calvers or have an autumn calving section in their herds.

Calving began in September and breeding will begin in December on these farms.  further north, the primary calving period is September through December.

Milk price has increased dramatically in the North with current prices at 41cpl.  Some of this milk is being shipped to England where demand has outstripped supply.

Many of our clients in the North have started milking three times a day in the hope of increasing milk volumes and profit with current milk price contracts.

Breeding cows indoors requires greater attention to heat detection.  The intensity and duration of heat shown by cows indoors is less than that at grass.

However autumn calving cows are also bred for high milk volumes which is negatively correlated with reproductive performance.

Aids to heat detection such as tail paint have not proven attractive to farmers with cows indoors.  Alternatives include either neck-or foot-mounted monitors for cow movement.

Recent research date has shown that one of these devices (MooMonitor) reulted in more that 85pc accuracy of heat detection.


It should be noted that cows have to be fit to get high heat detection rates.  Poor body condition score, lamness, metabolic diseases such as milk fever, ketosis and acidosis will all reduce your ability to detect cows in heat.

If you want to achieve high heat detection rates, consider a prebreeding scan of your cows.  We have shown that scanning cows between 14-25 days calved will enable early identification of reproductive problems and enable better dry cow and fresh calver management.

It is worth noting that 70-80pc of the future reproductive performance of your herd depends on management eight weeks prior to calving and the four weeks afterwards.

Scanning cows prior to the breeding season will enable you to address the problematic cows and set targets for high heat detection rates.

In a recent study we achieved a 98pc heat detection rate in cycling cows using scanning as an aid to heat detection.

In conclusion breeding cows for autumn calving will not be an option for empty cows from spring calving programmes on most dairy farms.

Heat detection had to be the primary focus now for autumn calving programmes. Heat detection aids such as the Moomonitor and scanning enable higher heat detection and identify underlying herd health problems.