Decisions made in the next number of weeks can and will have such significant effects on the calving season, but also the subsequent breeding season.
One of the single biggest challenges on a dairy farm is to have a calving season free from metabolic issues such as milk fever, ketosis, displaced abomasum, retained placenta, fatty liver syndrome and untimely reduced or delayed fertility. In Irish production systems, spring can be a stressful period, and setting the herd up to avoid any additional issues is a worthwhile consideration for both man and beast.
Such metabolic issues outlined above, come as a large cost on farm when present in both clinical and sub-clinical forms. Prevention of these issues occurring next spring starts during the dry cow period.
The cost of milk fever and metabolic issues
A single case of Milk Fever is estimated to inflict costs, coupled with consequential production losses of circa €300; with sub-clinical cases being estimated to cost >€100.
A study conducted by UCD, outlines below the true cost of such metabolic diseases when present on farm in clinical form. However, research has demonstrated that for every clinical case of milk fever that manifests itself on farm, a further 6 sub-clinical cases go undetected. Therefore, the investment in a good dry cow management programme on a dairy farm is vital.
Body Condition Management
The body condition of the herd will also play a vital role when avoiding issues next spring. It is best practise to dry off cows at, or very close to the best body condition score for calving (3.25); and maintaining this condition score throughout the dry period. Where a percentage of the herd are under-conditioned currently, it is more cost effective to build condition while the cow is producing milk, as opposed to building condition over the dry period.
On the other hand, having cows over-conditioned prior to calving is linked with a number of metabolic issues and diseases. Ideally, body condition score cows in the next few weeks, to make a tailored plan for herd going forward.
Feed-space on Farm
It is important to calculate and asses headspace on farm at the feed barrier. Often on farm, there is limited feed space, which can lead to some cows not being offered the correct rate of pre-calver mineral such as GAIN pre-calver gold. Minerals can be provided via feed wagon/diet feeder where being used on farm, or alternatively top-dressed over silage.
Where top-dressing silage with powdered mineral and feed-space is limited, offer mineral twice daily (half am/half pm) to ensure that all cows are being provided with the required amount.