REDUCED COW NUMBERS A REQUISITE ON MANY DAIRY FARMS
Spring calving breeding programmes should be finished now. However, stock bulls are still running with all herds visited to date. Cows bred now will calve in May. These May calvers will have short lactations in strict grass based systems and will be the most unprofitable segment of your business. The sale of late born beef calves has unfortunately been the most profitable segment of dairy enterprises this year.
The use of beef sires both from Ai and natural service has continued to increase this year. There is a reality that the market for producing in-calf heifers for re-sale is both limited and unprofitable.
Grassland management continues to be difficult on most farms. Some farmers have had to revert to feeding silage to cows by night. Supplementation of diets with concentrates in grass-based systems is minimal.
Stomach and liver fluke infestations have become clinically evident on many farms. We need better management routines to minimise the implications of these diseases. The immune system is severely challenged with secondary conditions associated with IBR and worms.
The combination of grassland quality and immune system depression cumulates in cows losing body condition score. As herd size increases, cows also have to walk greater distances to grazing platforms with a greater risk of lameness. The combination of lameness and depressed immune system will force cows into an unacceptable poor body condition score.
Lameness cases need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Lameness has implications for future performance at all stages of the production cycle. Lameness will not alone stop cows cycling but also increase the risk of embryonic death in cows primarily between day 28 and 35 of pregnancy. Cows experiencing lameness during the dry cow period will have poorer outcomes in terms of uterine infections and return to cyclicity post calving.
It is in your business interest to focus on the herd health status now. The primary driver of sustainable food production from your dairy herd is optimisation of body condition score at all stages of the production cycle. Sadly, with poor milk price, many farmers neglect to optimise body condition score.
The opportunity to reap the rewards when milk price rebounds will be delayed if cows are not in a fit body condition score. First and second lactation cows will be the first subgroup to suffer when the immune system is compromised. Stock numbers on many farms are far greater than the grazing platform can provide for adequate body condition score optimisation. In reality, a major rethink of matching management skills with stock numbers is required.
The availability of skilled stockmen is limited. Farmers are placing themselves under too much pressure at critical stages of the production cycle. In many cases, farmers would be both mentally and financially better off if they reduced stock numbers by 20pc.
This is a good time in your milk production cycle to evaluate your future development of the dairy business. The workload now should give you the opportunity to evaluate how you could optimally maintain the correct body condition score in your herd.
There has to be a match of housing facilities, skilled labour, grazing platform and the need for judicious supplementation of concentrates at specific stages of the production cycle.
Remove stock bulls from your herd now and avoid May calvers next year. Late calvers are also the most likely to have poor dry cow transition outcomes with a consequent greater risk of veterinary attention, impaired reproductive performance and greater risk of survival through next year.
Focus now on identifying empty cows. These need to be removed from the production system if you are overstocked as you need to build BCS in pregnant cows prior to their dry off period and aim to maintain same until they calve next year. Do not presume that a cow showing heat is empty as up to 10pc of pregnant cows show heat while pregnant.
Empty cows will be moved off farm earlier this year as they are unprofitable and will enhance cash flow. In reality, empty rates will increase this year, which correlates with the 25 to 30pc reduction in feed trade to dairy farms.
In conclusion, evaluate your dairy business now. It may be in your best interest to reduce stock numbers where a match of 80 cows to one skilled stockman pertains.
Dr. Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at www.reprodoc.ie
Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan for the Farming Independent 26th July 2016.