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28th November, 2022


Both day and night temperatures are currently high for this time of year. The associated inclement weather has resulted in excellent grass growth rates. However grass dry matters are falling as low as 11-13pc.

Many farmers are complaining that cows are not happy with current grazing conditions. Faecal passage rates are too high. This can be explained by a combination of the following factors:

  • In the first instance grass dry matters are too low to meet the requirements of cows producing over 18 litres of milk. These cows are currently loosing body condition instead of the normal gain of BCS in preparation for the dry transition period.
  • The second factor is associated with poor management of stomach worms, rumen fluke and liver fluke. A preventative health management plan needs to be put in place on your farm to minimise the impact of these health ailments. If BCS of your cows is below target you need to address the reasons for same.

Your first and second lactation cows will be at greater risk of poor BCS. Lameness can also be a major problem where there are poor road surfaces servicing the grazing platform or the herd is forced to walk in excess of 1Km to parts of same.

This stage of lactation should offer you an opportunity to optimise the price of milk received from milk from high solids concentration. However this cannot be at the expense of cows loosing BCS. Consider the judicious supplementation with concentrates to establish the required BCS at drying off.

Many farms are currently using the end of season pregnancy scanning event to vaccinate cows against salmonella outbreaks. Cows identified as not pregnant are not being vaccinated which helps to reduce costs.

In an attempt to optimise the risk of Johne’s disease management farmers now want to identify those cows and in calf heifers carrying heifer calves destined to become replacements for the dairy herd. These cows will be given greater attention at the time of calving to avoid the risk of disease transfer in faeces or group feeding of colostrum which has been a standard routine to date on many farms.

The current proposal to offer farmers 14c to reduce milk production on the initial 3 month period October-December is exercising the minds of many farmers. Many farmers will not be able to avail of this opportunity as cows were dried off early in the reference year because of the risk of superlevy fines. Therefore the base here will not be conducive to avail of this opportunity.  Dairy farmers who have expanded cow numbers are also faced with the same predicament because they will have to dry off excessive cow numbers at this stage of the lactation which will not suit them.

On several farms visited this week farmers want to identify cows not in calf, cows which will calve in late April through May 2017, cows with high cell counts, repeated lameness problems and old cows carrying Friesian bull calves with poor market value. This group of cows will be the primary target group when aiming to avail of 14c/litre in the milk production scheme.  From a management optimisation perspective a secondary group of pregnant cows to be maintained in the herd should be identified for an early termination of the current lactation.  This group should include cows with either poor BSC or poor locomotion score.  In addition, those cows identified as carrying twins should be included in this group.

Farmers become alarmed at this time of year when they encounter cows which have aborted or a pregnancy scan reveals a mummified foetus or a foetus which has died after 3 months of gestation.

The primary cause of abortion beyond 3 months of gestation is Neospora. The intermediate host for this disease is dogs or foxes which defecate and contaminate feed fed to cows. Management protocols of this disease should include the following:

  • Identify cows which are carriers of the disease. Breed these cows to beef sires so that replacement stocks will not enter the herd as carriers of the disease.
  • Ensure you have the proper biosecurity programme in place to discard of afterbirths post calving which are the vital link in the continued spread of the disease.
  • Neospora positive cows which are in the oldest cohort of the herd could be included in a group of cows for culling from the herd as part of the milk reduction scheme.

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

Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent 13th September 2016.