Farmers must scrutinise the role late-calving cows play on their farms

Profitable grass-based, spring-calving dairy production systems revolve around matching calving date to grass growth in order to maximise the quantity of milk produced from grazed grass.

Although breeding is fast approaching its conclusion on dairy farms throughout the country, a cohort of cows will continue to be bred into the latter stages of July – to calve next May.

Looking at this year for example and taking figures from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), we can clearly see that 34,024 calves were registered to dairy dams during the last week of May – up 1,288 head on the corresponding period in 2017.

The role breeding dairy cows in late July to calve in May 2019 – particularly when it comes to the farm’s finances and feed reserves – really needs to be scrutinised. Is there any point in calving a cow next May that’s only going to break even?

Feed requirements and returns

Teagasc’s Dr. Joe Patton recently touched on how much it costs to carry May-calving cows.

“In feed costs alone, excluding any other overheads, the May-calving cow is down to a margin over feed of -€300 at the time of calving.

“It’s not until late July that these animals actually break even; by the time you get into late October, that cow will only leave a margin over feed of €200-300.

“If other overheads were accounted for – including milking costs, fixed costs or veterinary – farmers may soon find that these cows are actually costing money in the long run.

“As feed reserves are tight on farms, 2018 could be the year to pull the bull out early and remove these late-calving cows from your system once they’re dry.

“Yes, it might bring your culling rate up 4-5% – in some cases – but your not carrying passengers until next May.”

Patton also gave examples on how much these May-calving cows eat in terms of silage equivalents. On an annual basis, these cows will consume the equivalent of 22 bales of silage.

Therefore, you need to ask yourself is it worth your while breeding May-calving cows this spring. If it’s not, could their removal from your system later this year save you silage and money? If the answer is yes, it might be time for the bull to take an early holiday.