Snub economics and look after herd
Published 02/03/2010 | 05:00
There is a pretty robust debate among dairy farmers at present regarding meal feeding levels to cows post calving. Dairy farmers are only too well aware of the problems encountered in feeding cows last year.
Last year a large number of dairy farmers took on board the strong advice about meal feeding at low milk prices. You were told it was uneconomic to feed meals. If you look at it purely from economics then it didn't pay to feed meals.
If you leave cow nutrition out of it, feeding meals to cows is totally dependent on the price of the meal and the price you are receiving for the gallon of milk. This time last year, average milk prices were approaching 22 cent/litre and ration was costing €240/t.
The extra milk gained by feeding a kilogramme of ration wasn't enough to cover the cost of the ration. Hence, the advice was not to feed when there was sufficient grass in the cows' diet.
However, when the weather turned really nasty in late April, the advice about meal feeding needed to be fine-tuned. If cows suffer three wet days in a row and grass dry matter approaches 11pc then they can't take in enough dry matter on a grass-only diet. Milk yield will plummet as a result. I came across situations where cows were losing half a gallon of milk in a few days.
This type of drop should only occur over a month. There are times when cows need buffer feeding and we had several of those periods last year.
We are unfortunately encountering one of those periods at present. Grass hasn't grown since last November, and what grass is ahead of cows, the quality of it is severely compromised by the amount of dead material in it. I know this varies from farm to farm, but what half-decent grass was out on farms has been eaten at this stage.
Silage stocks are disappearing fast as all stock, bar milking cows, are still in the shed. Replacement yearlings that would normally be gone to grass are still in the house.