Wake-up call required to avoid a 'dirty dairy' scenario
Spring calving programmes will begin now for grass-based milk production systems. The target is to have 90pc of cows calved in a six week period. However, the reality is that this figure will be closer to 70pc on the majority of dairy farms.
Thankfully, calving patterns are not as tight as a target of 90pc. In reality, labour, facilities and a safe working environment are not in place in at least 90pc of farms.
The dairy industry needs a major wake up call to avoid any association with the scare created by "dirty dairy" in New Zealand.
Expansion does come with the challenge of sustainability. The current mantra of compact calving puts pressure on farm labour, meeting thecurrent welfare requirements of cows, their offspring and simultaneous care of environment in our food production systems.
Optimisation of grass based milk production should in my opinion be based on a 90pc calving rate with a 15pc replacement rate over a 12 week calving period.
This reduces the risks associated with labour fatigue, inadequate housing environment and the attention to detail required for management of dry cow/fresh cow transition and new-born calves.
Current management practices are resulting in inordinately high mortality rates of young stock, cows not to mention depression among dairy farmers. These issues have to be addressed if we are to maintain our 'brand' with access to added value markets based on a sustainable food production system.
We are now at a critical junction in the production cycle. The majority of cows are now in either advanced dry cow transition or early fresh cow transition periods. The experience of cows during this period dictates approximately 70pc of the risk of future herd health problems and survivability of cows into the next lactation.