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26th March, 2019

PREPARING FOR SPRING CALVING IN 2019

The negative impact of the 2018 summer drought on silage stocks has been significantly reduced by the mild weather in December and January. The silage intake required for cow maintenance has been reduced because of seasonally elevated temperatures. A significant concern has been the concomitant increase in cases of pneumonia and associated viral and bacterial infections. This is linked to overcrowding and poor ventilation associated with house design.

Housing environment is an issue that needs to be addressed by the dairy industry for various livestock classes in the production cycle. There continues to be an impetus to increase dairy herd size which is unsustainable.

There will be significant changes in farm payments through CAP. There will be a greater emphasis on carbon sinks using the planting of trees as shelter belts independent of forestry plantations. Independent of any policy driven agenda from Europe, you as a dairy farmer can have a very significant impact on the carbon footprint generated from your dairy farm by actions taken over the next 3 month period.

Why might you ask for this “New Year Resolution “now? The key element here is that 80% of our dairy herd on a national basis is going through its “dry cow/fresh cow transition (DCFCT)” from the months of December through April. This DCFCT encompasses the period of 8 weeks precalving and the first 2 weeks post calving. Over 70% of future herd health and associated reproductive performance are linked to the management of your individual cows in this DCFCT. Again you ask the question “What has this to do with reducing my carbon footprint from the farm?”

Optimisation of DCFCT will increase financial rewards from the dairy business and simultaneously reduce your carbon footprint. This is a “win win” scenario, which you need to implement using the following management aids in the DCFCT.

Ensure all your dry cows have access to a comfortable cubicle bed, which encourages its use for the optimal time needed. Access to feed space must be feasible for all cows simultaneously when fresh food is placed in front of the cows. Access to fresh clear water is essential. It shocks me to see the number of water stations contaminated with faeces and stale food stuffs. All indoor troughs need to be emptied twice per week during the DCFCT.

Adequate ventilation in dry cow houses is essential to avoid respiratory related illnesses. Lighting systems incorporating low lux LED to ensure 10 hours of “daylight” will contribute to cow health.

It is essential that dietary balance does not result in BCS loss during the dry cow period. If silage quantity is restricted, supplementation with concentrates to maintain BCS is requisite. Many farmers are either restricting or failing to feed dry cow minerals. This is false economy. Use a dry cow mineral based on silage analysis. Either supplement in the dry cow mix or dust on the silage at feeding time.

I cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of “walking the cows” by a skilled stockman. This identifies individual cow ailments such as lameness, dry cow mastitis, early stage pneumonia & cows losing BCS. Identifying and treating these ailments will pay big dividends.

Optimising DCFCT as described in the first instance will ensure both quantity and quality of colostrum to support future calf health. Calves getting setbacks such as coccidiosis, cryptosporidium and pneumonia not alone increase the risk of survival short-term but also increases the risk of impaired fertility when 15 months of age.

Getting DCFCT right will optimise immunity of your freshly calved cow when she is at greatest risk of succumbing to either metabolic or infectious diseases. You should record any event which stresses cows during the DCFCT using one of the phone apps currently linking to cow passports. These cows should be presented for future reproductive assessment using ultrasonography of the reproductive tract when greater than 13 days calved.

Cows stressed during the DCFCT will have impaired repair of the reproductive tract. This increases the risk of metritis sometimes seen as a persistent dirty discharge. These events will increase the risk of cystic ovarian disease, irregular heat cycles, anoestrus, poor pregnancy rates, increased embryo death rates and ultimately the number of empty cows at the end of the breeding season.

Cows experiencing adverse DCFCT will also produce less milk in the next lactation with an increased risk of poorer processability in early lactation. The financial gains to be made here alone are self-evident.

This combination of outcomes will ultimately increase cow survival rates within the herd with an associated increased value added in terms of off farm milk sales. Simultaneously, you are reducing the carbon footprint at all stages of the production cycle. This latter outcome will in future be linked to your single farm payment.

The opportunities for financial rewards in dairy lie in optimising DCFCT. Ultrasonography of the reproductive tract in early lactation will enable you to address existing DCFCT stressors, treat cows with reproductive ailments and ultimately, increase herd survivability. This technology will be an integral biomarker in minimising your carbon footprint from dairy.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted on www.reprodoc.ie

Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent for the 15th of January 2019.