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13th June, 2021


The emphasis placed on grazed grass in cost efficient dairy and beef production is forcing farmers to graze land in unfavourable conditions. We have had an exceptionally wet winter whereby ground is saturated. The implications of pasture damage now on future grass growth rates have to be considered.

Grass dry matters and sugar content are currently poor which in poor grazing conditions will have a negative effect on optimal dry matter intakes. This needs to be borne in mind with the demands of the freshly calved cow.

A nutritionist recently got a reading of 8pc dry matter for grass to be grazed on a farm outside Tralee. This will exacerbate a negative energy status and force cows into a deep anoestrus state. This type of management practice results in cows being synchronised using progesterone devices asserted per vaginum during the breeding season.

The mantra associated with 6 week pregnancy rates will be dictated primarily by your management of cows in the 4 week period pre and post calving. It is essential that you maintain optimal management practices now, having had 6 weeks of 7 days a week with long hours transitioning cows and calves in a busy calving season.

Farm visits this spring have definitely revealed to me that the availability of skilled labour is causing significant welfare problems for both livestock and farm owners. Commendable improvements have been made in terms of housing environment and technology to improve efficiencies of food production at farm level in the past 10 years.

However, it requires skilled stockmen to have sufficient time to ‘prevent problems becoming a problem’ as part of a preventative health management programme. This will not be the case with our current trajectory to increase herd size in grass based production systems.

Bearing in mind that close to 80pc of herd health and future reproductive performance are related to the 8 week period centred on the event of pasteurisation. This stage of the production cycle is a very stressful period for both man and beast.

Psychologically, this time point will be the weakest in the calving season. Your primary focus has to be transition management of cows and calves remaining to enter the herd. Cows calving from now onwards are at a distinct disadvantage of survival into the next calving season. There are significant financial gains to be made by optimisation of the transition management experience for these ‘late calvers’. Consider this group as the hidden nuggets of gold on your farm.

A good stockman will delegate. Chores such as fencing, dehorning, slurry and fertilizer spreading should be contracted out to those with the experience and machinery. It is also essential to plan a break for yourself and family members and staff working as a team on your farm. January through March is the toughest period in spring calving herds. A planned break will maintain staff morale.

Most of the future replacements of your spring calving dairy herd will have been born at this stage. Colostrum management has been emphasised on an on-going basis. However, poor transition management of our ‘late calvers’ at this time of year will result in poor quality colostrum.

Many of these late born calves are sold through marts. Unfortunately, a scenario has arisen where these calves are not getting sufficient high quality colostrum in the first 4 hours after birth. This will create health problems for buyers supplying either the trade nationally or the export market. The risks of coccidiosis, cryptosporidium and pneumonia increase exponentially at this time of year. Poor colostrum management is a primary source of this malign. The health setbacks from these diseases have a significant impact on future reproductive performance of female progeny.

In conclusion, we pride ourselves on food exports based on a ‘green image’ centred on grass based beef and milk production. Make that a transparent scenario, where we add value to either a ‘niche’ milk or beef product produced from grazed grass. Good farm managers are now like hen’s teeth! We need to reward them for their passion and not to introduce undue stress which compromise both welfare of our dairy herd and stockmen.

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

Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent 8th March 2016.