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29th July, 2021

Dry cow management now primary driver of in-calf rate in 2016

THE impact of milk price reductions, the scale of same and the period required for an upturn are the primary concerns among farmers visited in the past month.

The impact of milk price reductions will hit hardest in Northern Ireland where the costs of production are significantly greater when compared with grass-based milk production systems.

Unfortunately, turbulence in world milk markets will be a feature of the dairy industry. Some farmers may in the future have to receive a minimum fixed price contract from their milk purchaser to satisfy both their lending agency and sustainability of their business. Ultimately, milk processability will suffer if the welfare of cows is compromised at any stage of the production cycle.

The inevitable risk of superlevy in this final year has meant that many farms which previously would have milked empty cows and late calvers over the Christmas period have ceased operations until Spring calving begins. For one couple in County Cork, there will be no cows milked over the Christmas period, a first in 25 years of marriage!

Winter milk production still pertains on a small proportion of dairy units in the South of Ireland. Breeding programmes have begun on those farms. Many of these farmers complain this year that heat detection is a problem with these cows. There is no heat detection aid which will detect heats when there is an underlying herd health problem.

With excellent grass growth this autumn, many farmers grazed their autumn calvers on this late season grass. However, an imbalanced diet using this grazed grass for the transition cow period has resulted in significant metabolic problems both pre and post calving. Many cases of milk fever and ketosis may be subclinical, but their impact on uterine repair, metritis and endometritis post calving are significant

Research data shows that these latter events will increase the incidence of non-cycling cows, reduce pregnancy rate to first service, increase the calving interval and reduce survival rate in the herd. These are all outcomes which you need to prevent.

One aspect of transition management gaining increased attention is the nutrition of the freshly calved cow. Diets are now being formulated on the basis of high energy with reduced protein for the first three weeks post calving. The objective here is to avoid excessive mobilisation of body condition with less risk of metabolic disease and consequent optimisation of reproductive potential.

For autumn calving programmes, it is essential that you consult with your vet to scan your cows before breeding. This will provide you with excellent information on those cows that are cycling, the stage of their cycles and enable target dates to be set for the cows to be bred. Problematic cows can be identified, treated and the use of cheaper semen can be considered for those subfertile cows. Problem breeders are analogous to running an engine on dirty oil; the longer you run it, the shorter its’ efficiency and lifetime.

The first of your spring calvers are now in their transition phase. You should have lists of cows by calving date charted on the walls of your office and milking parlour. Identify cows both in poor and excess BCS. Manage these cows from a nutritional perspective to calve down in the optimal BCS at calving. Unfortunately, many of these cows will have impaired health and reproductive potential in the next lactation. Focus on the health of your dry cows and in-calf heifers now. Ensure liver and stomach fluke and lice are not stressors compromising the immune health status of your cows. With silage analysis for both feed value and mineral analysis, it is essential that supplementation is based on maintaining BCS through the dry cow period.

Mineral supplementation, based on deficiencies in silage must cover a minimum of 8 and 14 weeks precalving for cows and in-calf heifers respectively. High potassium and low phosphorus silages are a common occurrence in silages fed to dry cows. These will create significant herd health problems when cows are most compromised from an immune health status in the 3 week period post calving.

From a business perspective, the optimisation of the transition management of your herd will deliver on both health and reproductive performance in 2016. This will give you both great job satisfaction and greater control of your destiny in the dairy industry.

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


Article was published in the Farming Independent on 16th of December 2014.