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28th November, 2022


What a difference a year makes! The month of September and beginning of October have been extremely wet in the west of Ireland.  The month of October in 2015 was one for shorts and t-shirts on the dairy farm!

The plight of dairy farmers in the west of Ireland has not been fully appreciated. The incessant rainfall has resulted in ground conditions where cattle cannot graze.  Farmers have now been left with no option but to house cows and resort to feeding silage in the form of round bales or pit silage.

Inevitably milk production will drop and with current milk price, farmers will not supplement with concentrates. There is a current mantra that dietary supplementation with concentrates is not economically justified.  This is based on a scenario where dry matter intakes from grazed grass can support both milk production potential for the stage of lactation and the opportunity to achieve the ideal body condition score at the time of drying off.

The reality at farm level is far removed from this scenario. Both body condition score and locomotion scores are far removed from the optimal in excess of 80% of herds visited in the past month.

Many farmers are taking the option of drying off cows early and rectifying hoof care issues when cows are housed. This is false economy when one considers the financial gain currently being made by some of our best dairy farmers.

On a recent farm visit to a dairy farmer in Co. Cork, milk production stood at 18 litres per day with milk solids of 4.8% protein and 5.3% butterfat. This Dairygold supplier received 34 cents per litre for milk supplied in August.

This dairy farmer acknowledged that he is currently making a profit from milk production. He will manage to pay bills this year that would normally have been put forward to 2017 were milk price not to increase.

How has this farmer achieved such an excellent milk price in a subdued milk price environment? This entails a combination of genetic selection, excellent grassland management, controlled breeding management programme and judicious use of concentrates at various stages of the production cycle.

This herd was originally a pedigree Holstein Friesian herd. A concerted effort to improve herd health and reproductive performance entailed the introduction of Jersey bloodlines in a cross-breeding programme, thereby improving hybrid vigor.

With this genetic base, a concerted effort to optimise reproductive performance entailed the use of ultrasonography of the reproductive tract from 14 days post calving through confirmation of pregnancy at 34 to 50 days post breeding and foetal gender determination between 55 and 70 days of pregnancy.

Reproductive problems arising from the dry cow and early lactation transition periods were identified early post calving facilitating optimal intervention of veterinary treatment. Missed heats and non-cycling cows were identified with minimal loss of open days.  Embryonic deaths were identified with minimal loss of days open by inducing heats following discovery.

This farmer is currently feeding 4kg of concentrates to support both current milk production with associated solids and the need to achieve and maintain the ideal body condition score prior to 10 and 8 week dry off period for first and second parity plus calvers.

Routine farm visits at this time of year reveal significant infectious diseases culminating in either debilitated health of the cows or foetal death associated with abortion and mummification of pregnancies.

Farmers have reduced the use of vaccines for IBR, leptospirosis, BVD and salmonella. If your herd is at risk from any of these diseases it does not make economic sense to exclude vaccination programmes.  You should also note that you increase the risk of neospora induced foetal death when the immune system is challenged.

Finally, farmers need to take stock of both silage quantity and quality now, for what may be an extended winter period.  Establish what stock can be housed and fed successfully on your farm.  Remove empty cows from the herd and focus on achieving the ideal BCS and LS in your cows for the critical dry cow transition period which will dictate 80pc of future herd health and reproductive performance in the next lactation.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at


Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent 11th October 2016.