Stress management required with increased cow numbers and imminent superlevy
Article by Dr. Dan Ryan published in the Farming Independent May 31st 2011.
The month of April was excellent for grazing cows outdoors, while the month of May initially resulted in near drought conditions in some parts of the midlands. The increase in rainfall in the second half of May was a welcome relief for grass re-growth on many farms. Some farmers have resorted to feeding baled silage made two weeks previously to bridge the gap in grass supply. However, low temperatures at night have increased the incidence of chills and pneumonia.
Milk supplies to the creameries have continued at record levels. Processing capacity has become a critical factor in the dairy industry. The requirements have been outlined on several occasions but the investment has not been made. Increased cow numbers and excellent grazing conditions have exacerbated this problem in the current year.
At farm level the impact of increased cow numbers and an imminent superlevy has increased stress levels in both man and breast! Farmers are very frustrated with advice given to increase the use of dairy sires three to four years ago. It was perceived that the possibility of a superlevy was a thing of the past. The only restriction on future output would be the nitrates directive!
The miss-match between cow numbers and quota available dramatically increases stress levels for the dairy farmer and cows. This miss-match will have to be addressed not alone in a quota restricted production system but also in the post quota era.
The welfare of both the dairy farmer and the cows have to be borne in mind on our food production systems. On many farm visits, farmers complain about the workload involved. We have increased cow numbers, with increased stocking rates and automation in milking systems. However, the quality of life for both the farmer and cow producing the milk has disimproved.
Cost efficient milk production cannot come at any cost. The high incidence of divorce and suicide in the New Zealand dairy farm population is not well recognized. Dairy farming can be an enjoyable and rewarding way of life. Discussion groups, media and the “mobile phone” have increased the communication between the dairy farm and the outside world.
However, many of my farm visits to dairy farms have revealed an acceptable high level of stress in the food production system. One dairy farmer in west Cork told me that many of his dairy farmer friends were continuously under pressure with their dairy production system. They have all increased cow numbers and improved housing facilities with a large financial investment. They cannot afford or get the quality of labour required to meet the needs for the care of cows. This farmer plans to reduce cow numbers to meet the milk quota available. He plans to maintain cow numbers at a level where he can easily manage the system on his own. Further expansion will only occur if his son comes home after his education to farm with him.
If you are currently producing excess milk for quota available, do not restrict feed intakes during the breeding programme. This will impact on both submission and pregnancy rates. Cow numbers have increased for the amount of grazing land available. Late calving cows have added to the grazing pressure. There is no demand for the later calvers this year.
Concentrate supplementation will increase the cost of milk produced relative to grass, but loss of body condition during the breeding season will increase the number of repeats to services and reduce the heat detection rate. Teagasc have reported that the cost of missed heats is €230 in a grass based milk production system. Therefore, it will pay to focus on maintaining body condition score.
Take action to address an impending superlevy after the breeding programme. Some farmers plan to shorten the breeding programme to 13 weeks, cull cows and dry off cows early.
In conclusion, the dairy industry needs a wake up call to address the stress being imposed on our food production system inside the farm gate. The quality of food produced and shelf-life of same is dependent on the care given to our cows.