Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Changing the health management focus

Dr Dan Ryan

The month of December 2010 highlighted the impact of sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice on farming practices. Many animal-welfare issues became apparent as access to farms was impossible.

Milk could not be collected; feed for animals could not be delivered to farms. There was also a consequent impact on the production belt on intensive-feed production systems as livestock was not moved off farms. On the dairy farm, this harsh spell of weather has highlighted the importance of good dry-cow management. Cows are now dry on the majority of farms where grass-based milk production systems are employed. Traditionally, this period has been associated with a break from twice-daily milking. Many young Celtic Tiger farmers look forward to a ski break, prior to starting spring calving season in February.

December 2010 meant a rapid dry-off of cows as it became difficult to prevent milking parlour equipment from freezing over. This early dry-off may be beneficial, as body condition score (BCS) is unacceptable on many farms visited over the past six weeks. I cannot emphasise the importance of achieving a BCS of 3 to 3.5 at dry-off -- this is eight weeks prior to due calving date -- and maintenance of this score until cows calve. The success of your 2011 breeding programme will be partially determined by achieving the ideal BCS at dry-off.

Cost-efficient milk production from grazed grass, and a good price for high-solids late-lactation milk, meant cows were milked longer this year.

This milk production was achieved at the expense of BCS loss.

Ensuring good dry cow management?

  • You first need to know your due calving dates. Many farmers identify cows as repeating later in the breeding season and will be late calvers. However, many of these cows will have shown false heats and are pregnant to a previous service. Scanning will give you accurate calving dates when done prior to 120 days of pregnancy.
  • Identify those cows with a BCS below 3.0. It will pay to group these separately and to put a diet management programme in place to ensure these cows gain condition.
  • Are there issues related to lameness, mastitis, stomach or liver fluke, IBR or BVD, and is this resulting in poor thrive?
  • Preventative management health checks are an essential part of maintaining fit cows. Set up a routine of milk sampling to identify diseases and mineral requirements. Minerals are required at all stages of the production cycle. Be careful on the mineral specification used. Feed a mineral daily during the dry period which meets the requirements of your cows, based on a silage or milk analysis. Deficiencies in copper, selenium, iodine, vitamin E and phosphorous are common. Excess potassium in silage can also create major problems such as milk fever and post-calving uterine infections.
  • Housing environment is critical to comfort and welfare. Farmers have installed stand-off pads in the hope of reducing winter housing costs. Moorepark has conducted excellent research in this area. If using a stand-off pad, ensure that it is installed properly and be aware that there is an annual maintenance cost of approximately €70 per cow accommodated.

The quality of woodchip used is the key to the comfort of cows on stand-off pads. I visited Ronan and John Dunlea, Fermoy ( They recycle timber derived from kiln-dried timbers. This has low moisture content, does not freeze and is free draining. Last winter, we had stand-off pads freezing over, with animal welfare issues. Avoid this with low-moisture woodchip.

In conclusion, your 2011 breeding programme begins prior to drying off cows. Preventative health management is essential. Address biosecurity, lameness, body condition score and mineral requirements.

Also Read

Indo Farming