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EXCELLENT PREGNANCY RATES CAN BE ACHIEVED WITH HIGH MILK YIELDS Published September 23 2014 in The Farming Independent

DAIRY herd management has become extremely difficult because of expansion with the impending removal of the milk quota regimen in April 2015. Many farmers have expanded far in excess of their ability to manage the cows, a grazing platform to accommodate the herd and the capital investment required for both housing and milking.

Grazing conditions have been excellent on heavy soil types, but water shortages are prevalent on many farms with wells running dry. Drought has once again become an issue on lighter soil types where silage has to be introduced to the diet.

Many farmers have stated that this has been the best grazing season in living memory. Milk quotas are full on many farms with no spare capacity for spring 2015. Once a day milking has been introduced and some farmers are opting for complete dry off of their herds by the first of November.

The risk of a superlevy has created a scenario of “driving a car with the handbrake on”.

Cows are not being managed optimally.

Body condition scores have slipped and animal health issues such as stomach fluke, liver fluke, IBR and neospora are prevalent. These issues have to be addressed before the transition period begins eight weeks prior to the 2015 calving season. On a positive note, reproductive performance for spring calving herds has improved over 2013 figures. Improved grazing conditions, impact of EBI with an emphasis on a high fertility sub index have contributed.

There has been a notable trend toward lower milk output per cow and increased stocking density to achieve the same milk output with great milk solids yield and optimisation of reproductive performance.

Many farmers surveyed by me on our farm visits will not increase cow numbers dramatically post quota regimen. Restrictions placed by land availability, farm fragmentation, skilled stockmen and capital investment have meant a preference for a “status quo” but “do a better job” with current stock numbers. Will a shortage of skilled labour in time become the new “quota”?

Increased milk output has been traditionally associated with increased costs of production, and decreased health and reproductive performance.

A case study involving an excellent herd near Ballingarry, County Limerick depicts how milk output per cow can be achieved in association with high reproductive performance.

Kieran and Loraine Irwin manage 146 dairy cows with projected 305 yields in 2013 and 2014 of 8,370 litres and combined fat and protein of 604 kg. The end of breeding season pregnancy scan revealed 15 empty cows or 10.3pc empty rate. The breeding season lasted 14 weeks. The empty rate was 13pc in 2013. The calving interval for cows calved in 2013 and again in 2014 averaged 365 days.

These figures demonstrate that excellent reproductive performance can be achieved with attention to detail at all stages of the production cycle. A team approach has been implemented by the Irwin’s. A herd health programme has been implemented in association with their vets Bill Loftus and Francis Neilan. Nutritional and husbandry management is provided by Morgan Sheehy from Devenish Nutrition.

A primary focus is transition management as it is recognised that up to 80pc of herd health and reproductive performance are associated with this period. The introduction of SoyChlor to the diet in the dry cow period has been integral in preventative health management. The breeding programme entails routine scanning using ScanMan technology from This package selects cows for scanning to optimise the opportunity to get cows in calf over the 14 week breeding period.

The Irwin family farm has a grazing platform of 180 acres. They plan to increase cow numbers to 168 cows. Stocking rates will be kept below one cow per acre as they feel that a safety is required for wet years. An inventory of silage is made in good grazing years such as 2014.

The Irwin’s plan to maintain current milk yields in a grass-based system with concentrate inputs averaging 1 tonne per cow. Grass is buffered with maize and silage during the early part of the grazing and breeding season. A primary focus is placed on optimisation of BCS and locomotion score at all stages of the production cycle.

Health and welfare of the cows is a primary concern, which in my opinion should be considered as a unique marketing approach to niche markets.

Painting a “green” image for grass based milk products has to be supported by science supporting optimisation of health and welfare of cattle.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at


Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan in The Farming Independent September 23rd 2014.