Plan winter diets for your dairy herd now
The Indian summer experienced in the first week of September brought all types of farm machinery out of the silence caused by the wet summer. It is now a case of salvaging forages, which should have been harvested in June. Unfortunately, the feed value of these silages will be poor. It required the full week of dry weather before many fields could be accessed or crops of grass were dry enough to be harvested.
It was Friday, the 7th before silage was baled in significant quantities in County Clare. The golden brown sward of grass and tracking of soil at the headlands told their own tale for future feed value and soil damage. Cattle at all stage of the production cycle have been indoors for extended periods this summer. Stocks of first cut silage have been exhausted on some farms while it has been impossible to harvest second cut silage. The cost of concentrate supplementation has become prohibitive on a profit basis for milk production but a necessity for animal health and longevity.
There is very little appreciation of the stress imposed on farming families because of the harsh summer; this has resulted in many unspoken cases of depression and suicide. There is an urgent need for improved overdraft facilities in our banks to cater for the unforeseen price cost squeeze.
We need to be proactive in an assistance programme to the dairy and beef industries because of the unforeseen circumstances. Social policy cannot be dictated to from bureaucrats in Europe. The credit squeeze faced by farmers will have to be eased. There will be a carryover effect of both feed shortage and quality of animal health and performance next year.
On a lighter note, an active Kerry farmer of mature years informed me during a farm visit that the summer of 1946 was the wettest in his memory. The replay of the Kerry versus Roscommon final was postponed in 1946 to enable the hay crop to be saved. The army was engaged to assist with the harvest. Mechanisation has indeed improved efficiencies in feed conservation but the weather has a dictating role on all activities.
Planning the nutritional management of your dairy herd is paramount this winter. The harvest of grass silage in recent weeks will enable a measure of total silage stocks available for the winter. Silage analysis will be essential to determine the feed value in silage. Work out how long the silage stocks will last with the number of stock on the farm. Budget for concentrate supplementation based on body condition score (BCS) management.
Ensure your cows are now gaining BCS to achieve a BCS of 3.0 at the time they are dried. Some farmers are planning to dry off cows early to reduce silage and grass consumption in an era of feed shortage. It is still justified to supply concentrates in the diet of late lactation cows when the value of butterfat and protein concentrations are high.
The wet summer has resulted in poor growth rates of weanling and maiden heifers. These need to be fed a high quality growing ration as grass quality and quantity become limiting to performance. The in-calf heifer can be safely supplemented with concentrates until seven months pregnant without an adverse effect on calving difficulty.
Identify empty cows and maiden heifers. The decision to recycle or cull these animals will depend on age, silage stocks and previous health. An added feature is the ability of diagnostic scanning to determine the future reproductive health of the cow. Many empty cows are recycled although they have severe reproductive problems initiating the establishment of pregnancy.
In conclusion, silage quality and quantity will be a limiting feature on most farms this winter. You need to calculate the quantity of silage required for your herd over the winter period. Budget for forage and concentrates required to maintain BCS at desired targets in dairy cows and live weight gains in young stock. Do not hesitate to seek advice now from either your Teagasc advisor or farm consultant to address your financial requirements. Both your health and that of your livestock are paramount in food production systems.
Article as published in the Farming Independent September 11, 2012