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Make efforts now to match cow numbers to the quota available

It is now time to stop breeding cows for spring-calving in 2012. Cows bred now will calve in May next year. In previous years there was a market for late-calvers. However, as the number of breeding stock has increased dramatically, we are now faced with the risk of a superlevy over the next four years.

Farmers are taking action now to avoid a superlevy. Stock bulls are being removed earlier.

We are being booked to scan herds of cows from the middle of August to identify empty cows for culling. There is little point in living in hope that a superlevy will not apply.

With the EU quota year starting in April and spring-calving starting in late January, there is too much scope to increase milk production with an increased number of first lactation cows coming into the national herd.

Plan now to match your cow numbers with the quota available. The welfare of both stock and staff managing the herd hinges on this match. Increased cow numbers require an investment in land, housing and qualified staff.

Many farmers have resorted to options of once-a-day milking and removal of concentrates from the diet. This will reduce the level of milk production and maximise profit. However, if body condition scores suffer, it will impact negatively on your breeding programme next year.

Your cows need to gain body condition at this stage of the production cycle. Too many farmers get hung up on strict grass-based milk production. If the cow has a genetic potential for milk production above 22 litres at this time of year, grass alone will result in body condition score loss. There is also an issue of insufficient fibre in grass-based diets where cows are on after-grass. We have several clients reporting butterfat percentages dropping close to their protein percentage along with outbreaks of acidosis.

Pregnancy rates for spring-calving herds based on scanning vary enormously. Currently, we record the pregnancy rate based on cows fit for service 21-45 days prior to the scan and an overall pregnancy rate for the period 21 days prior to scanning. The target of 90pc calving in a 10-week period is no longer realistic on most grass-based dairy farms.

Pregnancy rates have dropped by the order of 15-20pc over the past 20 years. Crossbreeding, which introduces hybrid vigour, has helped reverse this trend.

However, excellent reproductive performance can be achieved with Holstein Friesian cows if management skills are good. To date, we have recorded 10-week pregnancy rates in excess of 85pc in dairy herds of Pat Cotter, in Coolnakilla, Fermoy, and Danny Bermingham, in Doonbeg, Co Clare. These dairy herds milk 68 and 80 cows respectively. In both of these case studies, the cows had excellent body condition scores and lameness was not an issue at the time of scanning. AI was used for breeding for the first six weeks of the breeding season while a stock bull was used to breed cows failing to settle in-calf to AI. Embryonic death was not an issue on either farm. Concentrates were fed to cows based on their genetic potential for milk production.

I always feel like the grim reaper scanning cows where there is a high incidence of embryonic death. This can quickly reduce your results from an A1 to a C3! In these situations, we require further investigation using blood and bulk milk samples. Both stomach and liver fluke outbreaks are common on many dairy farms at the moment. These will result in depression of the immune system and outbreaks of IBR.

In conclusion, aim to match your cow numbers with quota available, ensure body condition score increases from now until cows are dried off and identify and take action on diseases causing a depression in the immune system and a breakdown in your herd.

Dr Dan Ryan is a breeding management consultant and can be contacted at

Indo Farming