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23rd February, 2019

Healthy cows now essential to produce late lactation milk and survive next year

The month of October has been excellent for grass growth. The opportunity to graze grass on heavy land has been exceptional. Farmers are in an upbeat mood in general as a result of the fine weather. Milk price may have created an unsustainable long term proposition, but fine weather has meant that farm tasks put on the “long finger” can be completed.
In addition milk production from grazed grass is still an option in late lactation with high solids. A farm visit to a client recently near Kinsale revealed milk solids close to 10 pc in a spring calving herd. This farmer was in receipt of an extra 5.2 cents per litre of milk above the average Dairygold milk price. This is where the profit margin lies in an otherwise unsustainable milk price. This farmer runs a business where attention to detail pertains at all stages of the production cycle. In the first instance he has used the EBI system to create a genetic pool capable of grass based milk production, average solids close to 500KG and survival rate of 88 pc this year for a 14 week breeding period.
The outcomes described above should be foremost in any farmer’s mind before any further expansion in herd size is considered. Expansion of herd size is not the answer for sustainable grass based milk production. In a survey of over 80pc of discussions with farmers visited by our company plans to increase herd size were the norm in the lead in period to milk quota abolition.
One year post quota farmers are faced with issues such as constraints placed by super levy bills, tax bills from a previous bumper milk price, available skilled labour, farm fragmentation and a current milk price of 25 cents per litre. For many farmers this is a “big black hole” leading to both clinical depression in health of farmers and significant increase in dairy cow welfare related issues.
Step back from the fire and ask yourself the simple question: “How can I achieve the results being achieved by the farmer in Kinsale?” You have to optimise the opportunity for both your own health and dairy herd health prior to any expansion in herd size as an answer to sustainable grass based milk production.
With excellent grazing conditions and a bask of grass, farmers have an opportunity to produce late lactation milk in the absence of a milk quota regime. Farmers need to be cognizant that grazed grass will now typically support 10 litres of milk daily.
Cows need to be gaining body condition now in preparation for the dry cow period. Farm visits reveal that too many cows are below target condition scores. First lactation cows, old cows, lame cows, cows carrying twins, will be at greatest risk of failing to achieve the target condition scores 8 to 10 weeks prior to their due calving dates. Accurate calving dates have become essential as farmers milk cows into late lactation in the absence of a milk quota regime.
Judicious supplementation with concentrates to cows at risk is essential now if late lactation milk is harvested. Otherwise survivability of the herd next year will be affected.
The outcome of next year’s breeding programme and the health of calves born next spring will be dictated by the preparation of your cows for the dry cow period and their health during the transition period.
The need for your herd to be “healthy” will be more critical in the future as new legislation controlling the use of antibiotics in food producing animals is enacted. It is in your interest to have a healthy herd where the immune system of the cow is able to tolerate the challenges placed by environmental circulating disease.
You need to address the risk of worms, fluke, IBR, BVD, Leptospirosis, Neospora and Johnes Disease in your herd. Do not forget the need for essential minerals and vitamins required by our cows for the dry cow period. The simple option of a mineral bolus or mineral lick are not the optimal answer to an immune system required to defend against the risk of disease and maximise the outcomes from vaccination programmes.
Dr. Dan Ryan is a Bovine Reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at