Summary of Castlemahon Dairy Seminar

Thanks to all that attended the dairy seminar in Newcastlewest last night. It was an informative discussion on Dairy nutrition, maximising fodder and feed and the future of dairy in 2015.

The main take home points that were made are that Dry matter Intake  (DMI) drives production in the Dairy Cow. If all we do as dairy farmers is to maximise the cows intake we will make 80% of our target yields.

DMI drives milk solids and is influenced by the quality of fodder, quality of feed, the Dry matter digestibility (DMD), acid potential, days in lactation and energy level of the feed.

The cow is essentially a walking stomach with a huge rumen of 50 gallons. If we manage the rumen correctly it will drive production in the most efficient, cost effective way possible.

Good silage (70 and above) is the second cheapest feed after grazed grass.

Bad silage (low 60’s) is the most expensive!

We should be aiming for 74 DMD silage with a cutting date around Mid May. Every week after that DMD drops significantly. For every 5 points drop in DMD you will need 1 kilo of concentrate to supplement it. Aim to graze your silage ground first to allow a decent cover on it by May.

Moulds and Mycotoxins are also becoming a big problem on farms. Ten years ago moulds would not cause any cow fatalities but possibly through the advent of whole crops and Maize silage the types of moulds in the county have changed and become more poisonous. Also when we are cutting our silage if there is a large Dock weed population in the silage ground, chances are the dock weed has gone to seed. When the dock goes to seed, it relies on a mould to kill off the parent plant leaves. If we put a large amount of this into our silage we are including a lot of these moulds and if they get any air supply they will flourish in the pit or bale.

Acidosis has been and continues to be a major production problem on farms. When the Ph level in the rumen drops below 5 the cow will have reduced intake, milk solids will drop, and potential problems with hooves can occur 3 to 4 weeks after incidence due to drops in the hoof making their way down.

We need to manage the cows intake to prevent this while still maximising her yield potential. Spring grass is one of the biggest problems with acidosis.

Feeding strategies.

Dry cows ideally need mineral supplementation at least 3 weeks before calving. The recommendation is to feed a 2 to 3 kilos of a pre calver ration such as our Dry Cow Calf Shield in this period. The benefits are to provide her mineral needs such as magnesium coming up to and immediately after calving  while also not adding calcium till she is calved. We also need to provide her with a source of energy for calving as she will lose 30% of her intake potential due to the calf size shrinking her stomach.  It will also get her in a better position to maximise her intake post calving by acclimatising her rumen to compound feed which will result in less incidence of post calving acidosis. Ideally we do not want her eating the dairy compound till after pregnancy when she needs to mobilise a lot of calcium.

In the 3 to 4 weeks after calving we should be acclimatising the cow to grass if possible for 4 to 5 hours a day and getting her rumen functioning by introducing the dairy compound diet slowly over these 4 critical weeks. We need the cow to have plenty of energy available to supply milk and also just as importantly to get her to cycle ready for breeding. Letting the cow straight onto grass day and night after being used to a diet of straw and silage require a huge change in the rumen function that takes a 3 to 4 weeks to change over. Going straight onto grass often leads to 2 to 3 weeks of serious weight loss with subsequent breeding and production problems.

Spring Grazing. This can be a tricky time of the year to maximise DMI. After the first grazing rotation the spring grass is very lush high in protein and highly fermentable. This can often result in the cows rumen not being able to handle this material fast enough and acidosis will occur with all the problems associated with it. To prevent this happening we should be looking at adding more fibre into the diet using a grazing nut such as our Dairy Maize to Graze or adding more fibre in the form of straw or where this is not sufficient we should be using 2 to 3 kilos of our compound feed as soya hulls or palm kernel. This will prevent the drop in milk solids and keep the DMI up by ensuring “gut fill”. If all we do is ensure the DMI is optimised we will be meeting 80% of the cows needs.

Summer period is a much easier time to manage as grass is not so highly fermentable not as high in protein and grazing conditions are generally manageable. Again it is vital to keep the dry matter intake up by ensuring the cow gets as much good quality grass as we can give her.

Closing off the grazing platform will depend on how much cover you want to leave on the fields, grazing conditions and silage availability. If it looks like you are short of silage for the winter at this stage consider supplementing with compound feed to keep dry matter intake up, keep milk solids up and to maintain body condition score. 1 kilo of feed will replace 5 kilos of good silage.

Other points that were made were the huge difference between the top 10% of farmers and the bottom 10 %.  The top 10% are making profit of around 2400 euro per hectare. The bottom 10% are only making 200 to 400 euro per hectare.

The factors influencing this are income generated from the number of milk solids in the year. We need to maximise our milk solids now and into the future. We should be breeding for milk solids and yield.

The feeling on expansion post quotas is that we can do a lot to improve yields and milk solids without increasing the stocking rate beyond what the grazing platform can comfortably handle.  If we manage DMI, breed for yield, extend days in lactation from 240 days to 300 and manage the cows rumen we can generate a lot more income for far less risk.

The general consensus was that what we discussed was pretty much common sense, don’t treat the cow like a robot, manage her intake, don’t go to extremes with her feeding and she will reward you with high milk solids, high yields, good health, easy calving and easy breeding.

In short a good common sense discussion looking towards the future which we should all be positive about. If we are willing to maximise our farms potential there will be a great income to be achieved. Thanks for your attention.

Paul O’Connell

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