Is late spring calving the future for winter milk production?

The future of winter milk production has come in for much debate since the removal of milk quotas last spring.

However, at this week’s Winter Milk Conference in Navan, a question from the floor raised the topic once again with one farmer wondering if late-calving spring cows could provide a solution to the systems’ problems.

For Teagasc Dairy Specialist, Joe Patton the answer was categorically – No.

“In fact it’s one thing that does worry me a bit with winter milk herds,” he said.

According to Patton, the cost of the late-spring-calved cow is a lot higher than some farmers think.

“The spring-calving dairy herds have copped on to this a long, long time ago because those animals inevitably get culled.”

Patton said in the winter milk situation a lot of the time we end up with these cows increasingly being relied on to fill liquid milk contracts in the winter time.

“The danger with that is that it is easy to forget that if you’ve cows calving in May. From February until May there is no grass in that diet. Furthermore, the chances are the calf value is poor, there is more risk of metabolic diseases,you’re going to get a reduction in milk per cow and the feed cost savings aren’t as good as you might think.

“On top of that the cow gets about 100 days at grass before autumn grass quality starts to kick in. So your cow is just at or after peak at that stage.

“I’d worry a bit about a large scale situation where we have a reliance on late-spring calvers to fill liquid milk contacts as an industry.

“We almost need to fail at spring fertility management in order to sustain that milk.

“If you get the six-week calving rate right which is a real objective and needs to be done right in the winter milk systems as well as spring you won’t have many May calvers.

Patton said a reliance on late calvers would delay the industry’s progress on good fertility management in the spring herd.

He also said another problem would arise in years when milk prices are particularly low coming into the autumn.

“A lot of people if they don have any fresh cows will probably dry a lot of those up.

“I would be worried about it. I still think you’re going to need that core of autumn calvers,” he said.

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