Dan Ryan: Spring transition will define the direction of your dairying year
Housing environment is an issue that needs to be addressed by the dairy industry for various livestock categories. Added to this, there continues to be an impetus to increase dairy herd size which is unsustainable.
There will be significant changes in farm payments through CAP. There will be a greater emphasis on carbon sinks using the planting of trees as shelter belts, independent of forestry plantations.
And regardless of policy decisions from Brussels, you as a dairy farmer can have a very significant impact on the carbon footprint generated from your dairy farm by actions taken over the next three or four months.
Approximately 80pc of our dairy herd is going through its dry cow/fresh cow transition (DCFCT) from the months of December through April. This encompasses the period of eight weeks pre-calving and the first two weeks post-calving.
Over 70pc of future herd health issues and associated reproductive performance are linked to the management of your individual cows in this DCFCT.
I hear you asking: 'What has this to do with reducing my carbon footprint from the farm?'
Optimisation of DCFCT will increase financial rewards from the dairy business and simultaneously reduce your carbon footprint.
This is a 'win-win' scenario, which you need to implement using the following management aids in the DCFCT:
* Ensure all your dry cows have access to a comfortable cubicle bed, which encourages its use for the optimal time needed;
* Access to feed space must be feasible for all cows simultaneously when fresh food is placed in front of them;
* Access to fresh clear water is essential. The number of water stations I see contaminated with faeces and stale food stuffs never fails to shock me. All indoor troughs need to be emptied twice per week during the DCFCT:
* Adequate ventilation in dry cow houses is essential to avoid respiratory related illnesses;
* Lighting systems incorporating low lux LED to ensure 10 hours of 'daylight'-like conditions will contribute to cow health.
It is essential that dietary balance does not result in BCS loss during the dry cow period. If silage quantity is restricted, supplementation with concentrates to maintain BCS is requisite.
Many farmers are either restricting or failing to feed dry cow minerals. This is false economy.
Use a dry cow mineral based on silage analysis. Either supplement in the dry cow mix or dust on the silage at feeding time.
I cannot sufficiently emphasise the importance of walking the cows by a skilled stockman.
This identifies ailments such as lameness, dry cow mastitis, early stage pneumonia and cows losing BCS.
Early diagnosis of all these ailments will pay big dividends.
Optimising DCFCT will also guarantee both the quantity and quality of colostrum to support future calf health.
Calves getting setbacks such as coccidiosis, cryptosporidium and pneumonia not alone increase the risk of survival short-term but also increases the risk of impaired fertility when 15 months of age.
Getting DCFCT right will optimise immunity of your freshly calved cow when she is at greatest risk of succumbing to either metabolic or infectious diseases.
You should record any event which stresses cows during the DCFCT using one of the phone apps currently linking to cow passports.
These cows should then be marked out for future reproductive assessment using ultrasonography of the reproductive tract when they are greater than 13 days calved.
Cows stressed during the DCFCT will have impaired repair of the reproductive tract. This increases the risk of metritis sometimes seen as a persistent dirty discharge.
These events will increase the risk of cystic ovarian disease, irregular heat cycles, anoestrus, poor pregnancy rates, increased embryo death rates and ultimately the number of empty cows at the end of the breeding season.
Cows experiencing adverse DCFCT will also produce less milk in the next lactation. The financial issues here alone are self-evident.
This combination of outcomes will ultimately increase cow survival rates within the herd with an associated increased value added in terms of off-farm milk sales.
Simultaneously, you are reducing the carbon footprint at all stages of the production cycle.
This latter outcome will in future be linked to your single farm payment.
Dr Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted on www.reprodoc.ie
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