Superlevy and falling prices pose risks for cows' welfare

Hugh Forde is pictured with some of his stock at Cordarragh, Kiltimagh
Photo: Mayo News
Hugh Forde is pictured with some of his stock at Cordarragh, Kiltimagh Photo: Mayo News
Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

A MILD AUTUMN has spurred increased milk production from grazed grass for both spring and freshly-calved autumn cows.

Many farmers are faced with the combination of a superlevy and a decreasing milk price in the months ahead. Therefore, they have continued to produce high solids milk from late lactations from grazed grass at the expense of body condition score (BCS). This has also been the approach for autumn-calving cows where dry cows have been left outdoors without correct transition management and freshly calved cows are forced to graze herbage with poor feed values. The consequence once again has been excessive BCS loss.

Compounding the problems are the rumours that there will be a last minute reprieve on the superlevy bill from Europe.

Farmers have continued to milk cows in the hope that either this will be the case or that a harsh spring will save the day.


This is a farcical situation. The seeds for impaired health and reproductive performance have already been sown. A wake-up call is needed.

My advice to the many farmers faced with a superlevy risk is to ensure that all your cows are dried off now. This will have to include cows calving between March and June and empty cows which traditionally would be milked through the winter months on many farms.

Remember that 80pc of herd health and future reproductive performance in your cows calving in spring 2015 will be dictated by your dry cow management and the first two weeks post calving. Aim to have your cow in optimal BCS by six weeks pre-calving and to maintain this BCS until cows calve.

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Key steps required in this process include diet management and housing environment. Silage analysis is essential and formulate a diet that meets the requirements of your dry cows.

High potassium silages are unfortunately all too common and a precursor to poor health and reproductive performance post-calving. Mineral supplementation on the basis of your dry cow requirements is essential. Risks associated with salmonella, liver and stomach fluke, worms, IBR and neospora should be addressed now in consultation with your vet. Any one of these diseases will depress the immune system and enable secondary infection.

With regard to the housing environment, it is essential that you have sufficient cubicle spaces and feeding area for the cows in the dry period.

In some instances cow numbers have increased without a concurrent increase in housing capacity.

If this is the case, farmers should sell empty cows and late calvers now. Don't presume cows are empty until you have them scanned.

Up to 10pc of pregnant cows will show heat on a routine basis while pregnant.

Many farmers are amazed when told a cow is pregnant when he had planned sending her to the factory.

With herd expansion, a common feature has been the rearing of young stock through to the transition period pre-calving by another farmer.

This may make economic sense but caution has to be exercised when bringing these in-calf heifers back into the herd.

Bringing these first calvers back into the herd on a stand-off pad one month prior to the calving season is a recipe for disaster.

The stress associated with bullying in these large groups has to be avoided.

There is a case for managing the first calvers in a separate group during the transition period. Replacements can account for 30pc of the dairy herd during the expansion phase on many farms.

This production class have to cope with the stresses associated with calving, lactation, uterine repair and continued growth during the first lactation.

Our experience using ScanMan technology reveals that approximately 20pc of first calvers fail on transition management targets. This results in higher culling rates for first calvers.

Significant dairy cow welfare problems will be a feature during spring 2015. The time for action is now with a primary focus on better dry cow management.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at


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