Is it time to can­cel some cows’ win­ter hol­i­days?

Dairy farm­ers are be­ing en­cour­aged to con­sider al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional calv­ing pat­terns, re­ports Claire Fox

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS - RING­SIDE

AN ES­TI­MATED 23pc of cows in the liq­uid milk herd are tak­ing a long hol­i­day every win­ter. was one of the key mes­sages from dairy spe­cial­ist Joe Patton at the Tea­gasc Win­ter Milk con­fer­ence in Na­van where he en­cour­aged farm­ers to con­sider split calv­ing pat­terns as an al­ter­na­tive to the tra­di­tional spring calv­ing method.

Late spring calvers are pro­duc­tive at peak, while cows calved in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber pro­vide a more sus­tain­able milk sup­ply through the year, said Mr Patton.

“Late spring calvers or sum­mer calvers peak high when there’s a peak pro­duc­tion in fac­to­ries and drop re­ally quickly, whereas Oc­to­ber calvers give us sus­tained milk pro­duc­tion through the year.

“If you take the num­ber of litres from Novem­ber to Fe­bru­ary, a June calved cow will give you 2,200 ki­los of milk and an Oc­to­ber calved cow will give you 3,200 ki­los,” he said.

He added that if you have a liq­uid milk con­tract feed costs for Septem­ber/Oc­to­ber calved cows are less than late spring calved cows and that late spring calved cows should not be used just to meet a con­tract.

“You need fewer Oc­to­ber calvers than you do late calvers to fill the con­tract. The an­nual feed costs of a June calver has the same feed costs of an Oc­to­ber calved cow but we need more June calvers to meet our con­tracts.

“On a whole farm ba­sis it’s cheaper from a feed point of view to have fewer Oc­to­ber calvers than it is to al­low spring calvers to be­come lax and left on,” he said.

Mr Patton added that there are fur­ther ben­e­fits of look­ing into the op­ti­mal calv­ing pat­terns rather than re­ly­ing on late spring calvers to fill con­tracts.

“Septem­ber to Novem­ber calved cows drive good milk pro­duc­tion through the win­ter, whereas with May-Au­gust calved cows there are is­sues of low solids and be­ing over con­di­tioned.

“We should not be us­ing stale, straggler cows from the spring to fill our con­tracts. It would make more sense to have fewer herds us­ing more Septem­ber/Oc­to­ber cows to sup­ply that type of milk.

“It’s im­por­tant we start talk- ing about calv­ing pat­tern. We have to start mea­sur­ing th­ese things.

“We have to be con­scious that there are tar­gets and ef­fi­cien­cies to be gained from the op­ti­mal pat­tern,” he said.

Mr Patton went on to dis­cuss ex­am­ples of op­ti­mum calv­ing pat­terns depend­ing on the type of liq­uid con­tract a dairy farmer has.

“If we take a 50pc con­tract what we’re look­ing at is two com­pact blocks cen­tred on early Fe­bru­ary calv­ing and start­ing in early Oc­to­ber with


a fin­ish in about 10 weeks. We are hol­low­ing out the mid­dle of the year and dur­ing the sum­mer months are free to pro­duce plenty of milk.

“If you have a 70pc con­tract, to achieve that we would have to start a lit­tle ear­lier. Start around Septem­ber 10 with about 55pc calv­ing in au­tumn over­all,” he ex­plained.

How­ever, in the case where farm­ers are on 25pc con­tract mod­els, he ques­tioned whether calv­ing in au­tumn was worth it.

“This 25pc con­tract is an in­ter­est­ing group. We’re talk­ing about 100 cows need­ing to calve 15 calves in the au­tumn for the op­ti­mum.

“If you’re in a sit­u­a­tion where you’re calv­ing 15 cows or less in the au­tumn you have to start ask­ing ques­tions about crit­i­cal mass and if it is worth your while? You need to de­cide what’s the best for your farm,” he said.

Mr Patton added that if we want to in­crease our milk pro­duc­tion and over­all ef­fi­ciency, that fer­til­ity and culling empty cows should be fo­cused on more by dairy farm­ers.

“We have to start look­ing at culling like it isn’t such a bad thing. We need to start look­ing

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