Dairy: Steady grazing strategy will avoid a sharp reduction in diet quality
Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30
The weather has been gloriously good and cows have gone to grass. It's as if karma has been restored because housed cows created an increased workload on man and increased disease pressures on beast, with SCC being harder to control especially where there were issues with overcrowding.
Please remember that where grazing was limited or even zero in February and early March, you have forgone grass growth that would have occurred on grazed paddocks.
Therefore the objective is not to race through the grass you have but to strategically ration it out until there has been enough regrowth on the first grazed paddocks to sufficiently start the second grazing rotation.
Going too quick and running short of pasture in April must be avoided as reducing the diet quality through silage as the cows come closer to peak yield and the start of mating will have a detrimental effect on the cow.
The quality of the cow's diet must improve every day from here on. Now there is also a risk of being too cautious resulting in early surpluses of grass which can reduce grass quality so the weekly grass walk is an essential part of March and April management decisions.
The change in the weather has also been beneficial for calf rearing. Where calves are inside, good weather reduces the occurrence of damp beds and the repeated need for bedding. For calves outside, dry weather provides the perfect dry lie and the opportunity for daily liveweight gain to take off.
Having calves outside in bad weather has a number of challenges and once a calf is setback, it seems to take a number of weeks of preferential care to bring them back to target.
Having talked to a number of farmers in recent weeks, there have been plenty of problems and in particular calves with scour this year. If scour has been giving you a headache this spring, obviously knowing what you are dealing with by testing a number of stool samples is a good start. Knowing this information may make you change parts of your system or your strategy for calf rearing in subsequent years.
Rotovirus has been a very common complaint this year. Once the cause is identified, the primary response is to nurse sick calves through the disease and reduce the impact of un-thriftiness or potential incidence of morality.
The secondary response is to determine where infection came from and what can be done to prevent a recurrence.
If you are having problems its time to review your rearing system and make changes where necessary.
Talking to your vet is an obvious step. However make sure you do this on farm and clearly talk through your practices. This can also be done with a bunch of trusted farmers. What seems perfectly fine to you may seem glaring obvious as a problem to another.
If we consider the prevention of diarrhoea caused by rotavirus, this has to be based on a combination of hygiene and vaccination.
As rotavirus is highly contagious, identifying the vector of how this virus may be transferring from one calf to another is essential. Have you considered your hands and feet as you touch and move between calf pens with sick calves?
It may be worth considering whether a mucky feeding area is transferring the virus on to a clean straw lie, or if group feeding, do you immediately isolate and separate infected calves. Another point to consider is the fact that rotavirus is very resistant and can survive in a normal farm environment for up to six months.
This raises questions about whether pens are being effectively cleaned out and disinfected with an adequate clean period between seasons.
Vaccination is costly to cover for rotavirus but many would swear by it to aid in it the effective control of rotovirus. Making sure that each calf gets adequate colostrum, followed by around five days of transition milk, is also important to make this vaccination programme work effectively.
Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in County Kerry.