Dairy sec­tor star­ing down the bar­rel of a fod­der cri­sis

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR - DAN RYAN

THE POOR weather for the past two months has cre­ated an im­pend­ing fod­der cri­sis in many ar­eas.

Dairy herds have been housed by night and in­deed by day in many parts of North Kerry, Clare and Gal­way for the past six weeks.

And while grass growth rates have been ex­cel­lent, it has not been pos­si­ble to graze this grass with­out pro­hib­i­tive wastage and soil dam­age. Zero graz­ing has been used on many farms to suc­cess­fully har­vest the grass with min­i­mal soil dam­age.

Grass is very low in dry mat­ter. Over the past six weeks, grass dry mat­ters have been as low as 10-12pc. Silage is con­sid­ered wet if less than 20pc dry mat­ter.

We have had a very wet au­tumn with poor sun­shine re­sult­ing in low/no su­gar in grass. Low su­gar grass equates to low en­ergy lev­els. Au­tumn fer­tilis­ers have pushed pro­tein lev­els up in grass, but with the low en­ergy there is an im­bal­ance.

Wet au­tumn grass has no fi­bre. Grass will not stay in the di­ges­tive tract long enough and cows will scour and lose body weight. Th­ese are the rea­sons why grass needs to be bal­anced with ap­pro­pri­ate in­gre­di­ents in the cor­rect pro­por­tions by a qual­i­fied nu­tri­tion­ist.

This sce­nario can be avoided by bal­anc­ing the diet us­ing high dry mat­ter silage.

Zero graz­ing has a place on many farms where farm frag­men­ta­tion, ex­ces­sive walk­ing dis­tances on the graz­ing plat­form and in­clement weather in­creases the risk of soil dam­age and herbage wastage. The sci­ence of man­ag­ing cows with zero graz­ing needs to be im­proved.

Zero graz­ing also in­creases the health risk of neospora and stom­ach fluke. Cows do not have the op­por­tu­nity to se­lec­tively eat con­tam­i­nated for­age.

Th­ese diseases are pri­mary health risks associated with poorer re­pro­duc­tive sur­vival of cows.

Some of our clients in the North have switched back to har­vest­ing more silage where th­ese health risks are min­imised. Grass silage will have less day to day vari­a­tion in nu­tri­tive value which can be eas­ily bal­anced us­ing sup­ple­men­tal con­cen­trates.

There are also less daily de­mands on a scarce labour re­source.

Cur­rent milk price will en­tice many farm­ers to milk their cows for a longer lac­ta­tion this year.

In­deed some farm­ers plan to milk their late calvers through the Christ­mas pe­riod.


You need ac­cu­rate age­ing of preg­nan­cies if you plan to re­duce the dry cow pe­riod to the min­i­mum of eight weeks for ma­ture cows and 12 weeks for first lac­ta­tion cows and those car­ry­ing twins.

The op­por­tu­nity to ex­tend the lac­ta­tion pe­riod pri­mar­ily de­pends on man­ag­ing body con­di­tion score. Sup­ple­men­tal silage and con­cen­trates are a ne­ces­sity at this stage of lac­ta­tion when grass dry mat­ters and graz­ing con­di­tions are so poor.

There is an ex­cel­lent profit mar­gin to be made by har­vest­ing late lac­ta­tion milk with high solids con­cen­tra­tion. But this can­not be at the ex­pense of a de­clin­ing BCS as your cow sur­vival rate in the next lac­ta­tion will be poor. Plan now on your for­age re­quire­ments for the win­ter pe­riod.

Re­move empty cows from the herd if you have lim­ited hous­ing ca­pac­ity. You should fo­cus on a cu­bi­cle space for every cow and suf­fi­cient feed space for all the cows to ac­cess si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

As cow num­bers have in­creased, there has been in­suf­fi­cient re­gard for the wa­ter re­quire­ments of cows. You need to en­sure ad­e­quate ac­cess points to wa­ter troughs and the use of rapid fill units.

For­age re­quire­ments will be a lim­it­ing fac­tor on many farms this win­ter. There will be a need to sup­ple­ment with con­cen­trates or pur­chase for­age from other farms. Plan a bud­get for th­ese re­quire­ments now.

It is para­mount that the six-week pe­riod prior to calv­ing and the first two weeks af­ter calv­ing are con­ducive to op­ti­mi­sa­tion of dairy herd health. Our end of sea­son herd scans are iden­ti­fy­ing sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of cows in need of a 12 to 14-week dry cow pe­riod so that BCS can be re­stored to a 3.0 for a sixweek pe­riod pre calv­ing.

Con­tribut­ing fac­tors in­clude first lac­ta­tion cows, cows in fifth and greater lac­ta­tion with poor BCS, cows car­ry­ing twins and cows with poor lo­co­mo­tion scores.

Lame­ness has be­come a ma­jor prob­lem on many farms in the past four weeks be­cause of the dam­age from rain to road­ways.

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