Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Watch calving season and you'll see men multi-tasking with a vengeance

Dr Mary Kinston

They say men can't multi-task. But that theory comes seriously into question for this male-dominated industry when you consider a dairy farmer milking, and the general management of a dairy farm during the calving season.

A well-run system always impresses me, as a person milking deals with freshly calved cows, stressed first calvers attempting to constantly knock off the milking unit, identifying and treating cows with high somatic cell count (SCC) quarters or clinical mastitis, as well as trying to keep an eye out for any animal with metritis or discharge that needs treatment. I think that's multi-tasking at its best. It's especially impressive when you consider that this is often combined with a degree of tiredness and stress resulting from the increased workload of dry cows, milkers and calf rearing, alongside the assistance and monitoring of the calving cows, often at unsociable hours of the night.


The ability to think straight or managing to get all those essential jobs done can come under pressure. Consequently, having simple systems in place or a degree of extra help to reduce the workload is a wise investment at this time.

Although the pressure is on, there are a few tasks that may be forgotten by some that are well worth implementing during the calving period and up to mating.

Worthwhile investments in time and energy are:

1. Check each colostrum cow for subclinical mastitis infections. This can be done with the California milk test, and treat accordingly before entering the main herd. If left undetected, these animals may raise your bulk SCC, risk infection to other cows, and potentially cause a big problem later on in the milking season.

This is especially relevant where there is a herd history of a high average SCC of more than 250,000 cells/ml.

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2. Check any 'at risk' cows at least one month after calving for uterine infections and treat accordingly. At-risk cows include any that had an assisted or hard calving, retained cleanings, milk fever or twins. This will improve your mating performance and increase days in milk in the subsequent lactation.

3. Walk your grass weekly to determine your average pasture cover and assess ground conditions to make appropriate adjustments to feeding levels at this time.

This year, doing your weekly farm walk is a critical step that can't be put on the ever increasing list of things to do.

This should be an essential part of your weekly management routine. Last year, all farmers were short of pasture but had good dry grazing conditions. In contrast, this year pasture covers range from high to very low, or from dry to very wet ground conditions, so there is no one piece of advice that suits all.


In some cases, where ground is saturated, this has resulted in a very small area having been grazed.

Therefore making adjustments to both the spring rotation planner and feed budget will be a requirement for some. For those that have struggled to graze pasture in February, feeding levels will need to reduce to step up grass demand once grazing is commenced in order to cover a larger area of ground during March.

For those starting to graze on March 1, start your grazing plan on a 1/60th of the farm per day basis. In this situation, you will also end up having to delay the end of your first grazing rotation by around four to seven days due to the fact that there was no accumulated growth in February to start your second rotation.

During spring, pasture covers need to be decreasing so that the lowest point is reached in the first few weeks of April.

The aim is to decrease pasture cover to no less than 300kgDM/ha.

Any lower restricts re-growth. The maximum should be 500kgDM/ha so that a good level of pasture quality is achieved before mating. If your stocking rate is low at say two cows/ha, or your calving spread is poor, then you need to achieve a pasture cover in mid-April closer to 300kgDM/ha.


If your stocking rate is closer to 3.5cows/ha and your calving spread is compact, then you need to increase your average pasture cover to closer to 450-500kgDM/ha, because your daily demand for pasture is higher.

If your pasture cover is already very low, manage it with slower grazing rotations and extra supplementary feed so that it does not decrease any further.

Dr Mary Kinston is a dairy consultant based in Kerry

Indo Farming