Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 19 April 2018

Emerging shortage of dairy managers a cause for concern

The spring farmload is increasing
The spring farmload is increasing
Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

The spring workload is cranking up on most farms. And while the recent mild weather has helped ease the burden, the end of milk quotas has resulted in health issues for many herds. In particular, the expansion of stock numbers has come ahead of the required housing facilities.

This is a recipe for disaster in terms of herd health and reproductive performance. Every cow has to have sufficient cubicle space and feed space to accommodate resting and feeding times respectively.

The hidden costs of failure to meet these basic requirements will be an increased percentage of non-cycling cows when the breeding season begins in May.

However, many will claim that these cows can be induced to cycle using a PRID or CIDR device. However, the seeds of infertility were sown early for the majority of these cows. Research data has shown that the reproductive performance and survivability of cows decreases significantly, if heat cycle have not resumed between 20 and 42 days post calving.

In one large study it was shown that those cows which had resumed heat cycles by 21 days post calving had calving intervals of 371 days, with a survival rate close to 90pc.

It should be noted that the majority of these early post calving heats will be silent and were detected using ultrasonography.

High production

Also, this study incorporated high production type cows with rolling herd averages in excess of 7,000 litres. Therefore, there are opportunities to achieve excellent reproductive performance in the high production type cow.

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Early post calving ovulation and the associated reproductive performance are biomarkers of dry cow and early lactation transition management.

As quota restrictions are removed in April, the new 'quota' on expansion will centre on farm fragmentation, nitrate directives and availability of skilled labour. We need an objective discussion on the type of cow required for various dairy farming systems.

Some media commentators suggest there is scope for further cost reductions in grass based milk production systems. This approach, in my opinion, is short-sighted. This results in increased stress on both cows, farm labour and the sustainability of a food production system.

We should not strive toward a cheap food policy.

There are opportunities for judicious input of concentrates and supplements at various stages of the production cycle.

The current mantra on low-cost milk production has resulted in an inordinately high incidence of health problems in freshly calved cows.

Veterinary practices are busy conducting surgery for displaced abomasum (DA), milk fevers and ketosis.

These are the clinical outcomes, but what of the subclinical cases, which will also results in poor milk production and reproductive performance.

I was recently informed that one veterinary practice in Cork was dealing with three DAs on a daily basis.

There are positive signals from the dairy markets suggesting that milk prices will not fall below 30c/l. There are still great opportunities to maintain a sustainable enterprise in dairy farming.

Ireland has the best resources of stockmen in the world.

This is often overlooked as an essential ingredient in our sustainable food production systems.

In the past, the Farm Apprenticeship Scheme delivered on the need for farm managers.

Unfortunately, our certificate, diploma and degree programmes in agriculture do not lend themselves to the training of farm managers as an integral requirement for the dairy industry.

I know of five dairy farms in need of qualified farm managers. These positions have not been filled to date because suitable applicants were not available.

On a positive note, crossbred beef calves from the dairy herd are making up to €380 at two weeks of age.

Bear in mind that calving difficulty cannot be entertained as part of this equation.

The financial gain will be eroded in impaired health and reproductive performance.

Dr Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at www.cowsdna.com

 dryan@ independent.ie

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