Dairy: Weighing up the pros and cons of milking late calving cows
Milking on late calving cows has the potential to generate €2 profit per cow per day. But do the risks outweigh the benefits?
At a farm walk last week in West Limerick, the economics of milking on April/May/June calving cows was one of the hot topics up for discussion.
The host farmer intended milking on 20 late calving cows through December and January. All 20 cows have been scanned back in calf.
Firstly we had to estimate the likely output of these cows who were heading into their eighth and ninth months of lactation, and eventually we settled on a daily yield of 15 litres per cow. After much debate we put a value of 30c/l on this late autumn milk giving us a daily income of €90 per day from milking these 20 cows, which works out at €4.50 per cow.
Estimating the cost of producing this milk can be a tricky business. Which costs do we include and which costs do we exclude?
The cost of supplementing these cows with meal while indoors is one obvious cost. The feeding value of much of the silage being tested this autumn is around 67pc and 68pc DMD.
It was agreed by all that somewhere in the region of 5kgs of an 18 to 20pc protein ration would be required to supplement this type of silage. A cost of €280 was placed on this ration which works out at €1.40 per cow per day.
Should the silage be costed in? If these cows are back in calf and are going to be kept anyway, then the group argued that this batch of cows would eat this silage anyway.
It was decided to exclude the daily silage cost of €1.50 (10kgs by €1.50) by the group. Yet there are other costs apart from feed costs, which also have to be factored in; electricity, detergents, liners, water and so on.
We agreed to put a cost of €1/cow/day to cover these other costs. This left total costs at €2.40 per cow (silage costs of €1.50 excluded) which left us with a profit of just over €2 per cow.
But what are the risks with milking hese cows?
Loss of body condition is the biggest risk. If these cows are fed average quality silage then loss of body condition is likely to occur. The knock on effects of this are huge; thin cows calving, thinner cows bulling, not going back in calf, cows leaving the herd, replacements to be brought in.
All cows will need a minimum of eight weeks of a dry period to prepare for the next calving season.
Any thin cows should not be milked on. If cows are losing body condition at any stage, then dry them off.
Milk quality can be another big issue with milking on; SCC, TBC, lactose and even added water can become an issue with low volumes in the winter time.
If you have an SCC >400, then don't milk on. You are very likely to carry the disease from one milking season to the next with freshly calved heifers most at risk.
TBCs are often elevated in winter time when you have small quantities of milk in the bottom of large bulk tanks. Hygiene is especially important when dealing with small quantities.
Lactose issues always arise at this time of year. Most co-ops impose penalties at levels below 4.2pc. Keep an eye on it and dry off any culprits.
Many of the dry cow tubes and approved flukicides have lengthy withdrawal periods. Effectively treating fluke while milking on can become quite a challenge. Read all labels carefully and put a dosing plan in place.
The final cost which very few farmers put an actual monetary value on is labour. With herd sizes increasing on many farms over the past few years, you need to be at your freshest heading into the spring.
Many farmers who have milked on previously will say that the fatigue really hits you in late March/early April. After spending the last 10 months working 60 to 70 hour weeks, surely you deserve a break?
Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc dairy advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick email: email@example.com
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