Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 April 2018

Act now and prevent a fodder crisis on your farm

Dr Dan Ryan

The potential impact of a fodder crisis has been the primary topic of conversation on farm visits over the past month. Combined with the price of milk and cost of concentrates, farmers are faced with difficult decisions.

The reality at farm level is one where farmers have far greater stock numbers than quota. Plans for a 50pc increase in milk production post quota have already been implemented on many farms. However, the clinical symptoms associated with milk production in 2012 are now in evidence at farm level.

The body condition score (BCS) of cows and size of in-calf heifers is currently too low on many farms. Grass dry matter is also low, resulting in high passage rates (loose) and a loss of BCS in many dairy herds. It will pay to supplement concentrates to your dairy cows now, if BCS is below the target of three.

Next year's breeding programme will be affected by your current dairy herd management methods. One of the primary areas affecting outcome in 2013 is the size of in-calf heifers. They must achieve target weight at calving with BCS maintained in the eight-week period prior to calving. Feed a growing ration to undersized heifers and group heifers by size if the batch as a whole is uneven in weights. You will also need to accurately assess how far along pregnant heifers are to ensure concentrate supplementation can be safely implemented until seven months gestation.

Silage quantity and quality issues should be dealt with this autumn. Large quantities of baled silage are being sold at between €25 and €40 per bale. Silage quality should be assessed before purchase. Poor quality baled silage will cause health problems and reproductive impairment next year.

Baled silage with a DMD of 65 has a maximum value of €28 when compared with a concentrate ration priced at €285/t.

Many farmers are panic buying baled silage at €35 per bale with a shipping cost of €10 per bale to West Limerick and North Kerry. Fodder beet and straw are alternatives as part of the total diet.

The standard practice of recycling empty fit cows on many farms will not happen this year. If feed is limited on the farm, these cows are being sold through the marts.

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We have encountered cases where farmers have purchased Holstein-Friesian cows due to calve in March and April 2013 averaging €285.

Some farmers are being forced to sell because of overstocking, insufficient silage reserves and banks that will not facilitate the purchase of feedstuffs. It is now time to establish the health status of your dairy herd. A bulk milk sample will establish the level of infection associated with various diseases including BVD, IBR, Neospora, Ostertagia and liver fluke. You will need samples to assess the level of infestation of stomach fluke.

Treatments for stomach worms and fluke are warranted prior to vaccination against other diseases. The response to a vaccination programme is dependent on immune health status. Heavy infestations with stomach worms and fluke will depress the immune system.

In my opinion, IBR and related viral infections are causing the most severe health problems. Enhanced biosecurity is required to prevent the spread of IBR, alongside a vaccination programme in cows that are not immune compromised. IBR vaccination programmes entail the use of dead or live vaccines.

If a vaccination programme is in place, ensure your in-calf heifers are vaccinated against IBR prior to entering the dairy herd. First calvers are faced with stresses associated with a new social order, milk production, uterine repair and continued growth in size.

Dr Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist. For more information see

Indo Farming