Health management programme is key to sustainable autumn calving
Breeding programmes for autumn-calving herds will end by March 10. This pertains primarily in the South of Ireland. However, dairy farms in the North will continue breeding through the month of March. It is difficult to understand why farmers would not reduce their workload over the Christmas period.
Unfortunately, we are currently encountering a rapid demise in autumn-calving programmes in the South. There are three primary reasons for this:
Autumn calving requires a greater management workload in terms of housing, nutrition, reproductive management and management skillsets;
Farmers are being advised to focus on grass-based spring calving systems;
The winter milk bonus structure does not give the same financial returns, when compared with grass-based spring calving systems.
Autumn-calving programmes are associated with a higher input of supplemental concentrates and a higher output of milk per cow relative to grass-based milk production. The cow required for an autumn-calving programme has to be genetically driven for higher outputs of milk and a capability to respond efficiently to supplemental concentrates.
Autumn calving requires greater attention to detail in terms of nutrition. Diets have to be formulated whereby the nutritional value of forage is balanced with supplemental concentrates, minerals and vitamins. The risk of forage contamination with mycotoxins is a continuous concern and requires constant and careful management of the forage storage area.
Reproductive management of cows housed indoors is a greater challenge when compared with cows managed outdoors. However, we cannot compare reproductive potential of a low milk-output grass-based system with a high-output indoor system.