The persistent wet weather over the past two months has resulted in an early winter housing period for many beef and dairy farmers. This scenario is more prevalent on heavy soil types in North Kerry, West Limerick, West Clare and counties Cavan, Leitrim and Donegal.  There are knock on implications for dairy herd management bearing in mind the current profit attainable from milk production in late lactation and the future optimisation of herd health and survivability in the next lactation.

In spring calving herds, you should now have an accurate report on hand describing the pregnancy status for each cow and the projected calving date. Cows carrying twins should also be identified for an extended dry period.

Milk price at 40 cents per litre plus bonuses are enticing many famers to extend the normal lactation for later calvers next spring. Many of our clients plan to milk both empty cows and later calvers through the Christmas period.  This would not be the norm but “catch up” after two years of non-profitable milk production has incentivised farmers to continue milking this year.

Caution should be exercised on three primary fronts when planning to milk on a year round basis:

  • The body condition score of dairy herds has decreased rather than increased to achieve the targeted 3 to 3.25 BCS at the time of drying off. This has resulted from feeding low dry matter grass with high protein and low energy status. Get an independent assessment of your cow BCS. If cows are not achieving a BCS of 3.0 by the time they are 190 days pregnant, they need to get an extended dry cow period.
  • As cow numbers have increased and the opportunity to harvest high quality silage has been restricted on many farms, many farmers are faced with a fodder crisis next spring. Therefore, the options that pertain entail either an early dry off time or extend lactation with supplemental concentrates to spare forage. Farmers need to bear in mind that there is a minimum two fold return on high quality supplement supply to the diet in late lactation. There is also the benefit of achieving the target BCS by the time of dry off.
  • Caution should be exercised regarding your mental health. The emphasis placed on grass based milk production has resulted in larger herds with insufficient labour and concentrated calving season. This in turn is leading to an undue stress load on farmers and a growing number of farmers suffering from stress related issues. Speak out, get help and look forward to time out over the Christmas period with family and friends.

Back to cow health matters at this time of year! Dry cow therapy will begin over the next four weeks in spring calving herds.  An emphasis needs to be placed on selective dry cow therapy bearing in mind the risks of antimicrobial resistance.  This will be a challenge for farmers to face at all stages of the production cycle.

Selective dry cow therapy should be considered in herds where SCC is consistently below 200,000 cells/ml. Meticulous records with individual milk recording and all clinical mastitis cases should enable you to identify those cows for sole use of a teat sealant.

Parasite control is essential at housing. Milk, blood or faeces analysis will give an accurate assessment of risk of gutworm, lungworm, liver and stomach fluke.  This will help best use of forage this winter.  With growing concerns of anthelmintic resistance, there is a need for targeted treatment when necessary.  With climate changes, the fluke season has extended.

External parasites should be considered a concern for housed cattle. Lice can be classified as sucking or biting lice.  The feed intake of cattle can drop by 10pc with lice infestation.  Synthetic pyrethroid based insecticides are the primary treatment for lice.

Lameness this autumn is a major challenge in Irish dairy herds. Digital dermatitis or commonly known as Mortellaro is an infectious condition reducing milk yield, mobility and reproductive performance.  It has been estimated to cost €10,000 for a 100 cow herd.  Treatment with topical gel and bandaging lead to 71 to 86% treatment success rate within one month compared to a 30 to 44% success rate without use of a bandage.  On a day to day basis the best control measure for Mortellaro is to run a footbath every milking on a daily basis, which reduces the incidence of new infections and improves hoof condition.


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 21st of November 2017.

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