Nutrition experts have warned of looming fertility problems in dairy herds this spring unless farmers ensure herds receive adequate feeding around calving.
With the main calving season just around the corner, dairy nutritionists have warned that large numbers of cows will calve down in less than ideal body condition, which could lead to fertility problems.
Brett Brothers' nutritionist Heather Peppard warned that she had seen cows on a number of farms in recent days slip into negative energy balance prior to calving because farmers stopped concentrate feeding in the month pre-calving.
"We are advising farmers not to do this year what you've done every other year," she explained.
"Normally farmers would cut out concentrate feeding from four weeks prior to calving because the calf inside the cow could become too big. However, this year, many cows are in poorer condition than normal and in those cases they need the extra feeding."
Teagasc dairy expert John Donworth echoed her comments, advising farmers who had dry cows with poor body condition scores to only reduce feeding in the last 10-14 days pre-calving.
He added that if cows were too thin at calving, additional concentrate feeding post-calving was not the only solution to preventing fertility problems further down the line.
"You can't feed your way out of it because a cow that is predisposed to milk will use the extra feeding to produce more milk instead of putting on condition," he maintained.
"If you have thin cows at calving, you could be looking at once-a-day milking to allow them to build up body condition again before breeding."
Teagasc nutritionist Siobhan Kavanagh admitted that she had seen herds where cow body condition had fallen prior to calving.
"If cows calve down thin and lose excessive body condition after calving, there could be problems with fertility," she said.
Reproductive specialist Dr Dan Ryan said he had already seen fertility problems in autumn calving dairy and suckler herds.
The rate of anoestrus (non-cycling) in dairy cows during the critical period of 44-75 days post-calving had doubled from a normal rate of 10pc to 22pc. In suckler herds, the anoestrus rate has increased from 10-15pc in a normal year to 35pc this winter.
He maintained the problem was caused by inadequate nutrition and warned that it could be worse in spring-calving herds.
However, Mr Donworth warned that it was very early to talk about fertility problems in the coming breeding season.
"A lot will depend on the spring weather and the access to grass," he insisted.