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23rd February, 2019

Mental Health Essential for Optimal Transition management Outcomes

Spring calving will begin over the next few weeks. Even though milk price does not cover the cost of winter milk production at manufacturing price, a significant number of farmers have milked their late calving cows through the Christmas period.
In the past, milk quota restrictions ensured most spring calving cows were dry prior to Christmas. For many farmers cash flow is stipulated as the primary reason to extend lactations.
It is essential that you have accurate dry off dates for these late spring calving cows. Of greater significance is the requirement to achieve a BCS of 3.0 eight weeks prior to the due calving date. Unfortunately cows are either not being dried off in time or allowed to loose BCS prior to drying off.
With costs of milk production in excess of milk price, farmers are being placed in the unenviable position that the stress on both farmers and cows will result in an unsustainable food production system. There will be casualties, we need to ensure that we maintain contact between farmers during this period of uncertainty associated with a return to profitable milk production.
Until such time as positive market signals emerge it is essential that farmers support each other with regular phone contact and farm visits. Stress resulting in depression creates a situation where the underlying stressors are not addressed. This creates more animal welfare problems and in turn reduced sustainability of the food production system.
The use of pre-calver minerals has been dramatically curtailed in spring calving herds. This is a classical symptom of a dairy business in crisis. Failure to supply the quality and quantity of pre-calver minerals will have knock–on effect on the sustainability of the food production system.
Dry cow minerals and vitamins need to be supplemented on the basis of dietary analysis to ensure the optimal transition outcomes for the dairy herd.
The transition period encompassing the 2 month pre-calving and the first month post calving accounts for approximately 80pc of herd health stressors.
The return on investment in correct transition management is a no brainer! Look forward to an opportunity to reap the rewards when profitable milk production resumes.
Winter milk breeding pregnancies have encountered a delayed onset of breeding on many farms. Indeed, there is a continued exodus as the winter milk bonuses do not support the extra costs incurred. However, there are farms where winter milk production is and will be the most sustainable system.
The challenges of heat detection are greater with cows confined indoors for a winter breeding programme. Farmers have to focus more on calving cows compactly to avail of the winter milk bonuses restricted to a shorter window of opportunity.
Tail paint, teaser bulls with chin-balls are the best aids in heat detection for cows managed outdoors. However these aids are not the norm with indoor breeding programmes. The risk of injury to teaser bulls used indoors is greater. The management of tail-paint with cows indoors is more difficult with a greater risk of false positive heats.
The reality to achieving optimal heat detection rates begins with transition management. Events such as lameness, calving difficulty, milk fever, mastitis and poor BCS will have an adverse effect on heat detection rates.
In utter frustration, farmers will resort to blindly injecting cows with prostaglandin to “induce” heats. The induction of heats with prostaglandins should only be considered if you are not willing to give the time required for heat detection as the ideal window of opportunity to get your cows bred this winter has shortened.
Consider the use of either scanning cows prior to breeding or three weeks after the onset of the breeding programme to optimise your heat detection rate. Why wait three weeks into the breeding programme to identify either problem breeding cows or an underlying herd health problem?
Pre-breed scanning of your cows will inform you which cows are cycling and when to expect them in heat. You can then accurately maximise your heat detection rate. Critically your vet can then treat the cows with reproductive problems to induce heats. Use semen on a selective basis based on pregnancy risk and the need to use beef or dairy semen.
Dr. Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at