Make efforts to manage dry cows to aid breeding
The past month has resulted in excellent grass growth and grazing conditions on many farms with little or no concentrate supplementation.
Farmers are being advised to take the above approach in cost-efficient milk production. However, my farm visits over the past month have revealed that more than 70pc of cows are below the target body condition score (BCS) for the stage of the reproductive cycle.
It was a pleasure to scan a dairy herd in Co Cork where only one cow in a group of 60 cows was below the target BCS. This farmer was still averaging 20 litres a cow last week. Cows on this farm have been supplemented with more than 2kg of ration a day since early September. The empty rate after the first 13 weeks of breeding was 13pc, which was acceptable for the type of herd involved and solely dependent on the use of AI.
It is now time to consider dry cow management on many dairy farms. The risk of a superlevy is high on the agenda on many farms visited. Empty cows and late calvers next spring will not be milked through the winter this year.
It is foolish not to have quota available for cows calving next February and March. Suggestions of once-a-day milking, no ration supplementation either on grazed grass or silage for freshly calved cows, is a recipe for disaster in next year's breeding programme.
Plan your dairy cow management now. If you are faced with a superlevy next spring, prioritise cows for drying off. Identify cows in poor BCS, lame cows and first lactation cows as candidates for drying off now. This will enable them to achieve the desired BCS before they are seven months pregnant.
I have had some reports of farmers not using dry cow therapy this year in order to keep down costs. This is an unacceptable management practice, given the risks of mastitis, animal welfare issues and production losses next spring. Research supports the benefits of using dry cow therapy and teat sealers.