Winning the 2nd half - how do cows experience your farm?
A lot happens in the first 150 days of the cow’s lactation but to a large extent the game is decided in the second half. How can we win the second half? Tom Fallon, Farm Buildings & Infrastructure Specialist wants to achieve five in a row (lactations for all cows) and has tips for achieving this
Cows are putting on weight, they often have further to walk and like many players they are getting tired after doing a lot of work. The autumn is the best time of the year for farmers to influence cow body condition. A herd lameness problem can arise very quickly in the autumn. Cows have a hunger for work in early lactation but it can be a different story later in the year. It is recommended that all farmers write out a plan for the remainder of the year. For most farmers going on a holiday takes a lot of planning and preparation. In the same way some planning will help to have a good end of season and it will also set yourself up for next year.
Cow care in mid summer
- Systematically check for cows for lameness or impending lameness (a stone recently trapped between the claws etc.) and treat accordingly. This can be done by giving each cow a locomotion score or by checking how each cow is standing and walking especially the cows at the rear of the herd. White line disease is very common especially following periods of heavy rainfall and it can affect both back and front feet. Breakdown of the white line allows the entry of grit and dirt. This condition can readily be treated by hoof pairing. Foot bathing is only recommended for treating mortellaro (digital dermatitis) and footrot. Foot bathing twice a week is recommended to bring mortellaro under control. Please see: Mobility Scoring for Dairy Cows (AHDB-UK)
A fresh looking 4th lactation ‘silent’ (she gives no trouble!) cow. She did 582kg milk solids in 2020 and has a maintenance sub index of €25
- Scan and condition score cows. Cows use feed very efficiently in the second half of the lactation so it makes sense to supplement cows that are destined for culling in the autumn or after 1 week post calving. This will allow you to manage the peak milk supply next year.
- Supplement magnesium in the cow’s diet throughout the year. It reduces stress on the cows by helping muscles to relax including the heart muscle. 30 grams per cow per day is included in the diet to prevent grass tetany but 15-20 grams is normally adequate in dry warm weather when the risk is low.
This first lactation animal calved on the 5th April (photographed on 22nd May). Her size is good but her body condition will need to be monitored. She must be looked after next winter by having at least a 3 month dry period. Many first lactation animals fail to reach their potential because of competition for feed space in their first winter with the full herd.
Are there problems arising on your farm?
- Are cows following a trail on the farm roadway? The surface may have become poor with stones becoming exposed so cows won’t use the full width of the roadway.
- Are cows slowing down or even stopping at a section of the roadway. This can happen where there is a depression in the roadway or where there is a mucky section with a lot of shade from overhanging trees.
- Cows maybe slow to leave paddocks because the exit has become degraded over time.
- Cows crowding each other at a gathering point before they cross a public road can be a problem. An underpass is the obvious solution of choice. Some farmers have their own pressure release mechanism such as holding the cows with a wire a few metres before the roadside gate. This wire can be released to reduce the pressure prior to crossing the road.
- The section of roadway nearest the farmyard and especially where cows step onto concrete needs careful attention. There is no ‘give’ in concrete so loose stone on concrete are not satisfactory. Topping up the dust on the stretch of roadway before the concrete surface will help to trap stones.
- We need to recognise that these issues can become a big problem when there is a change in personnel and cows are rushed around milking time.
Cow flow through the milking parlour
As cows are heavier in the autumn the size of the collecting yard can become an issue. We recommend a minimum of 1.5m2 per cow but preferably 1.8m2 for cows 580kg in weight. A dedicated collecting yard and a carefully operated backing gate can reduce milking time. The milker should not have to leave the parlour pit to bring cows in. If cows are approached ‘head on’ they will tend to back away. Level non-slip concrete surfaces and having adequate light in the parlour will facilitate good cow movement. Cows have a rigid back-bone from the shoulder to the tail head so it is important to minimize turning. Cows are also sensitive to the emotional state of the farmer or milker so leave anything that is annoying you outside the parlour!
Five in a row (for all our cows!)
The national average number of completed lactations per cow is low at under 4. We would like to increase this to 5.
This is a significant cost in terms of the extra replacements needed, the loss in production in having a less mature herd profile and a higher carbon footprint for the output achieved. Increasing this by 1 lactation per cow would increase herd profitability by €84 per cow assuming the surplus replacements can be sold for €2,000 (assuming 4.2% less replacements from having a replacement rate of 18.5% versus 22.7%). I have no doubt that where cows needs are met in winter accommodation they will in turn deliver for the farmer. There will be less downer cows, less lameness and cows will calve down in better condition. Having adequate feed space simplifies winter herd management and it can often mean feeding costly ration is not necessary for cows that are somewhat below the desired condition score. All of this will lead to less stress on cows and the farmer and better performance. Cows are herd animals, they like to do stuff together like eating and lying down. In the past we foolishly thought otherwise. The Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) obliges farmers to provide at least one cubicle per cow. The Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine (DAFM) Building Specifications have been an enormous help in raising building standards in recent years. Many farmers are delighted with how cows are responding to new cubicle accommodation where cows have more space and they do not have to compete to get to the feed barrier. Farmers have said to me that it was only then that they realised just how bad the old accommodation is, especially if both are operating alongside each other.
Teagasc researchers carried out a study in 2019 to investigate welfare and lameness on 103 Irish dairy farms. As part of this study, dairy cows were mobility scored to determine the prevalence of and factors associated with lameness.
Read more here on Lameness
Read more here from Teagasc on Dairy Infrastructure
For further advice you can contact any of our Teagasc offices using this link Teagasc Advisory Regions here
This article featured in the Today's Farm Magazine. Today's Farm is a Teagasc publication. If you liked this article, you might like others in this publication Today's Farm (July/August) here