Farm Ireland

Thursday 30 March 2017

Dairy: Look after both stock and stockperson

Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

Farmers have been forced to graze in unfavourable conditions.
Farmers have been forced to graze in unfavourable conditions.

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 where 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 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 during the breeding season.


The target for six-week pregnancy rates will be dictated primarily by your management of cows in the four-week period pre- and post-calving.

It is essential that you maintain optimal management practices now, having had six weeks of seven days a week with long hours transitioning cows and calves in a busy calving season.

Farm visits this spring have definitely confirmed for me that the shortage of skilled labour is causing significant welfare problems for 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 with sufficient time to 'prevent problems becoming a problem' as part of a preventative health programme.

This will not be the case with our current trajectory to increase herd size in grass-based production systems.

Bear in mind that close to 80pc of herd health and future reproductive performance are related to the eight-week period following calving. This stage of the production cycle is a very stressful period for both man and beast.

Psychologically, this will be the toughest time during the calving season. Your primary focus has to be transition management of cows and calves that have still to enter the herd. Cows calving from now on are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of survival into the next calving season.

There are significant financial gains to be made by optimising of the transition 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 is always necessary. However, poor transition management of our late calvers at this time of year will result in poor quality colostrum.

In addition, many of these late born calves are sold through marts. But a scenario has arisen where these calves are not getting sufficient high quality colostrum in the first four 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 these problems.

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 avoid introducing undue stresses that compromise the welfare of both our dairy herd and stockmen.

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

Indo Farming

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