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Saturday 10 December 2016

Dairy industry needs to wake up to stress on cow and farmer

Dr Dan Ryan

Published 31/05/2011 | 05:00

Last month was excellent for grazing cows outdoors, while this month initially resulted in near-drought conditions in some parts of the midlands.

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The increase in rainfall in the second half of this month was a welcome relief for grass regrowth on many farms. Some farmers have resorted to feeding baled silage, made two weeks previously, to bridge the gap in grass supply. However, low temperatures at night have increased the incidence of chills and pneumonia.

Milk supplies to the creameries have continued at record levels. Processing capacity has become a critical factor in the dairy industry. The requirements have been outlined on several occasions but the investment has not been made. Increased cow numbers and excellent grazing conditions have exacerbated this problem in the current year.

At farm level, the impact of increased cow numbers and an imminent superlevy has increased stress levels in both man and beast. Farmers are frustrated with advice given to increase the use of dairy sires three to four years ago. It was perceived that the possibility of a superlevy was a thing of the past. The only restriction on future output was supposed to be the Nitrates Directive.

The mismatch between cow numbers and quota available dramatically increases stress levels for the dairy farmer and cows. This mismatch will have to be addressed, not alone in a quota-restricted production system but also in the post-quota era.

The welfare of both the dairy farmer and the cows have to be borne in mind on our food production systems. On many farm visits, farmers complain about the workload involved. We have increased cow numbers, with increased stocking rates and automation in milking systems. However, the quality of life for both the farmer and cow producing the milk has gone down.

Cost-efficient milk production cannot come at any cost. The high incidence of divorce and suicide in the New Zealand dairy farm population is not well recognised. Dairy farming can be an enjoyable and rewarding way of life.

Discussion groups, media and the mobile phone have increased the communication between the dairy farm and the outside world.

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However, many of my farm visits to dairy farms have revealed an unacceptably high level of stress in the food production system. One dairy farmer in west Cork told me that many of his dairy farmer friends were continuously under pressure with their dairy production system. They have all increased cow numbers and improved housing facilities with a large financial investment.

They cannot afford or source the quality of labour required to meet the needs for the care of cows. This farmer plans to reduce cow numbers to meet the milk quota available. He plans to maintain cow numbers at a level where he can easily manage the system on his own. Further expansion will only occur if his son comes home after his education to farm with him.

If you are currently producing excess milk for quota available, do not restrict feed intakes during the breeding programme. This will impact on both submission and pregnancy rates. Cow numbers have increased for the amount of grazing land available. Late-calving cows have added to the grazing pressure. There is no demand for the later calvers this year.

Concentrate supplementation will increase the cost of milk produced relative to grass, but loss of body condition during the breeding season will increase the number of repeats to services and reduce the heat detection rate. Teagasc has reported that the cost of missed heats is €230 in a grass-based milk production system. Therefore, it will pay to focus on maintaining body condition score.

Take action to address an impending superlevy after the breeding programme. Some farmers plan to shorten the breeding programme to 13 weeks, cull cows and dry off cows early.

In conclusion, the dairy industry needs a wake-up call to address the stress being imposed on our food production system inside the farm gate. The quality of food produced and shelf-life of some is dependent on the care given to our cows.

Dr Ryan is a breeding management consultant at www.cows365.com

Indo Farming



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