Quick fix of inducing cows should not be a substitute for good management
Published 08/03/2011 | 05:00
Calving is now well under way and most farmers will have a high proportion of their first calvers milking at this stage. However, a high proportion of the later lactation cows remain in the maternity ward.
On a recent farm visit to a dairy farmer in Tipperary, I noted that more than 30pc of the cows had slipped from January and February calving to March to July calving because he delayed the breeding date by two weeks. Why does he do this you may ask? His theory is that the elevated levels of protein in a lush grass diet in early May results in too many cases of clinical or sub-clinical acidosis.
Whatever the reason for later breeding and calving dates, many farmers are left wondering how to address the issue of later-calving cows. The quick fix for some has been induced calving. I don't believe in this, even though it has been quite widespread in New Zealand for many years. Injecting cows with a steroid forces them up to 70 days before they are due to calve naturally. This brings them into milk with the rest of the herd during spring. Cows produce around 90pc of previous lactation yields with higher milk solids. However, this practice is now being phased out through legislation on animal welfare grounds.
There is an alternative way to address this issue but it does take more effort.
What I call a preventative management health programme is required. This focuses on preventing the environmental stressors that depress the immune system of the cow and her reproductive performance. In essence, good management practices and stockmanship skills are needed at all stages of the production cycle.
Sadly, with increasing herd sizes, a cow becomes a number and, even with the best will in the world, the stockman simply does not have the time to look after each cow individually. This whole issue has become clouded by the fact that terms such as animal welfare are associated with the 'green' movement. However, maximising animal welfare should be the goal for every livestock farmer. After all, when you are kind to the cow, she will be kind to you.
The first step in this process is to maintain a healthy immune system in the cow. Unfortunately, the reproductive system is the first line of attack when you place undue stress on the cow. I witness this firsthand scanning thousands of cows every year. Even seemingly unrelated issues, such as poor dry cow nutrition, milk fever, lameness and infectious diseases, show up on the scan.