A few tips for coping with the dry

| January 31, 2008 | 0 Comments

The current dry period is causing serious problems for dairy farmers as it has arrived earlier than in previous years and has come off the back of a variable, and in some cases, very wet spring.

“With the high milk payout influencing stock retention decisions on-farm, as well as the high cost of supplements, it is important that farmers take steps to minimise the impact of the dry period on their farming operations, in order to protect next season’s production and to achieve the maximum profitability from the current season”, says DairyNZ field extension manager, Dave Miller.

“Successful summer management depends on planning, monitoring and taking action, he says. “Farmers should aim to get control back by developing a ‘Summer Management Plan and sticking to it.”

Although every farm is unique and faces different challenges, the following information will be useful for dairy farmers developing their own summer management strategy.

Have a summer management plan
Every farm should have a summer management plan. This is a must, setting out key decision points concerning stock and feed management and the dates when critical actions should occur. For those without a plan, a free template is available at www.dairynz.co.nz. Alternatively, your farm consultant may be able to help you develop a plan tailored for your own situation.

Monitor the situation
Regular monitoring of both the farm and wider situation is important, as it allows you to evaluate the options available for stock and feed management, based on the most accurate information. A weekly farm walk and keeping up to date with the news will help achieve this.

Manage Body Condition Score
Firstly, get all known culls off the farm as soon as possible. Don’t carry them for the sake of it. If sending them to slaughter, remember that they must be fit for transport and able to bear weight on all four limbs.

Sensible management of Body Condition Score (BCS) is crucial to the protection of next season’s production. Cows should be at BCS 5.0 by next mating, so pulling condition off them now for the sake of continued production makes no sense. It will cost you far more to put it back on later.

Dry mature animals off on BCS and somatic cell count (SCC). As a safeguard, have a final dry off date and stick to it. Drying off low producers and young stock early, when they are in good condition also makes good sense, as it will reduce the pressure on the available resources. It takes a lot of time and feed to regain BCS.

Consider Once-A-Day milking
Alternative milking patterns, such as once-a-day (OAD) or ‘three times in two days’ can help take the pressure off both staff and cows and are an attractive option once production has dropped to around 11 litres/cow/day for Friesians and 9 litres/cow/day for Jerseys.

Switching to OAD means paying close attention to mastitis detection and management, as somatic cell counts (SCC) can rise to double that of cows milked twice-a-day (TAD) and some cows may go clinical. Be very careful if your bulk SCC is over 200,000 before switching to OAD, as you run the risk of grading. At the very least, your bulk tank needs to be able to accommodate a short term (3-4 day) doubling in SCC.

As well as drying off high SCC cows early, you should consult the SAMM plan (available from your dairy company) for up to date information on mastitis management. Also, talk to your veterinarian about dry cow management options and withholding periods, especially if this is the first time you have milked OAD.

For those with problematic cell counts, milking ‘three times in two days’ is an option, however, awkward milking times may outweigh the advantages for you.

Use supplements wisely
First and foremost, earmark 10 – 14 days of supplement for the period after rain (approx 100kg/DM/cow). There will be a lot of pasture decay at this time and you will need something to keep your cows going.

Feeding supplements keeps animals in production longer than would otherwise be possible. However, supplements can increase stock water intakes, so systems must be in place to cope with the increased demand. Consider providing water in the yards to reduce the demand on troughs in the paddock after milking.

Offer pasture silage to stock first, as it will have more protein than maize silage. Green feeding maize silage is an option when all other avenues have been exploited. Avoid using autumn/winter supplements if at all possible. Use them only as a last resort after drying off the entire herd.

If grazing turnips, make sure you give enough of them to meet cow energy demands and that all animals can feed at once.

Bought in supplements such as Palm Kernel/Tapioca mixes are an option. Profitability depends on how long it stays dry for. The immediate milk response is unlikely to fully cover the cost, but if feeding for a couple of weeks allows you to maintain more milking cows, when it does rain the returns will be significant.

Seek professional advice before using unfamiliar feed mixes on your stock.

Look after your irrigated pasture
If you are irrigating, monitor soil moisture levels regularly. Consider signing up to NIWA’s ‘Climate Explorer’ (www.niwa.cri.nz) to help with your planning. Have a contingency plan for when water restrictions are applied. One option is to fully water the best part of your farm, rather than watering the whole farm poorly.

There are a few paddocks of deferred grazing still around. Graze these now, as both quality and quantity of feed will drop fast.

Unless you have a significant injection of supplement available don’t alter your grazing rotation.

Make best use of your professionals
Rural professionals, be they veterinarians, farm consultants, DairyNZ Consulting Officers, bankers, or feed reps all have specialist knowledge, which can help you manage a dry summer effectively. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice as needed. At the end of the day, their business depends on the success of your business, so it’s in their interest to help you get through.

Category: Feed and Fert, Focus

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