Summary of Listowel Dairy Seminar

Following on from the Dairy Seminar hosted by O’Connell mills and held in Listowel last night here is a brief summary on the topics discussed.

Morgan Sheehy from Devenish Nutrition spoke about his 3 legged stool concept for Irish farmers.
The three legs of the stool are, Farm Management, Animal Health and Animal Nutrition.
If there is a problem with any one of these legs then the stool can not stand.
Often times when we visit a farm with a problem it is one of these areas that is holding back the cow performance and with some small changes it can be fixed easily.

Moulds and mycotoxins are becoming a huge problem on farms. Moulds are the single biggest contributors to food loss and wastage in the world.
Dry silage that was made last summer has proven to be very susceptible to moulds and often times we can’t actually see them but if the silage is heating its a safe bet there are moulds present. Best advice is don’t feed it to the animals, and also stay as far away from it as you can yourself as if you breathe in the spores from the moulds it will depress your immune system and can cause farmers lung among other serious health problems.

Silage swards with large numbers of docks are similarly very vulnerable for moulds as the dock plant releases moulds when it seeds to kill off its own leaves.

Dry cow nutrition.
Getting the dry cow nutrition correct is vital to the long-term milking potential of the cow along with preventing expensive calving problems such as Displaced abomasums, milk fever, retained afterbirth and womb infections.

The cow in the run up to calving needs to be at body score 3 and have energy available for the calving and transitional process. In the last 3 weeks of her pregnancy her intake is reduced sharply due to her calf pushing on the rumen. It is vital that she is provided with enough energy for the calving process without losing more body score so we must feed dry cow concentrate to make up for the energy deficit.

Milk fever and sub clinical milk fever have a huge effect on the cows performance and her ability to get back to production quickly. Milk fever can be caused by the level of Potassium in the fodders that we are making in modern farming. The Potash levels on silages have been rising steadily over the last 20 years leading to an imbalance in the cows ability to combat Milk Fever, mainly caused by large amounts of slurry in the silage ground.

Best practice would be to cut a field at some stage over the summer that did not get any slurry and keep that aside for the dry cows in their final 8 weeks of pregnancy. If you are feeding pit silage often you will see a band of dark and light coloured silage in the pit. Generally the lighter coloured silage is the silage lower in Potash so this is the silage you want to feed to your dry cows. Morgan told us of a few incidences on farms of Milk fever that was cured by using this simple approach.

Similarly chopping fodder too fine can lead to acidosis due to the fodder being absorbed too quickly.

Feeding the calf

Calf feeding takes a pile of time on farm. No question about it. The aim has to be to get healthy calves up and thriving as fast as possible. It takes a lot more time and effort to feed a sick calf than a healthy one.

Colostrum is vital to the health of the calf as it is born with no antibodies to fight disease. The rules about colostrum is get 10% of the calves bodyweight of the best colostrum into the calf as soon as possible, as fast as possible.  For a 30 kg calf this would be 3 litres. The effectiveness of colostrum after 6 hours is only 66%, after 12 hours it is 50% and it reduces even faster after that. Speed, quality and volume are the 3 keys to remember.

The recommendation is to try to stimulate rumen development in the calf as early as possible. We want the walls of the rumen to develop the honeycomb structure that is essential to increase the surface area of the rumen to handle large amounts of roughage. On a Milk only diet generally calves rumens do not develop well. On a hay and milk diet they still do not develop particularly well staying quite smooth even after 8 weeks.  The best diet after extensive trials worldwide is a straw and concentrate diet. You need good quality clean straw presented in small amounts and kept fresh. Also the concentrate should be just a handful to start and kept fresh to encourage them to eat it. Little and often are the important factors here. Generally accepted that they need 12 weeks to wean effectively.

We had a good discussion on grazing heights and cows Dry Matter Intake ability. Morgan made the point that asking a cow to try to pull grass at golf ball grazing height with her tongue into her mouth and get a decent dry matter intake was just not feasible. She will not be able to fulfil her intake needs on this and will suffer with milk solids and yields as a result.

The maths is simple, she takes 60 bites with her tongue per minute, for 10 hours grazing time is 36000 bites per day. Even at 7cm grazing height that is only 0.14 grammes per bite that does not stack up! While we all agree that the best grass quality is achieved by leaving as little cover on the ground as possible after grazing this is seriously holding back the performance of the cows in terms of Milk Solids and yield as she is not being given enough fuel to make the Milk Solids.

Morgan also gave an example on how a simple graph can do wonder for farm management.

If you plot the Milk solids divided by the number of cows in the tank on the x axis and the dates on the y axis you can plot a graph on how your herd performance is going on an annual basis. The graph should not have any big jumps or steps in it, it should be a relatively smooth graph. If there is big steps it may indicate problems such as that every time the cows enter a certain field in the rotation the Milk Solids drop. Morgan made the point in 9 times out of ten cases where he is called to solve a problem on farm with milk solids this graph can explain a lot.

We have used this on farms to great effect.

We had a post quota discussion and Morgan made the point that on his travels worldwide the general feeling is that world milk price is set to stay high for the short-term. In his experience in other countries the successful dairy farmer is one that can keep some of the profit in reserve for the year when the price may not be as good. He also made the point that even if milk price falls, if global input costs come down you may be able to still make a very decent profit.

Upon talking to the attendees afterwards the feeling was that it was a very informative session with plenty of information to bring home to help run the farm business a little more effectively going into the future. Morgan had plenty of small tips from his experience on farms that could make a big difference to farm profit.

Information is the key to making good farming decisions in the future.

The take home messages:

Benchmark from your own farm and situation. Not off your neighbour down the road.

Get as much output from what you have before expanding herd size.

If one of the three legs of the stool are wrong, the stool can not stand up.

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