The importance of a successful dry cow programme

Mark Moloney, InTouch feeding specialist

Over the next eight weeks, AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

Winter has come early on most farms around the country, with many housing cows full-time over the last few weeks.

This means more silage and meal being fed, but it can also offer more control over increasing or decreasing body condition in late lactation and preparing the cow for the dry period.

Working on farm as an InTouch nutritionist with Alltech, this time of year is a critical period for farmers to ensure a successful lactation period in 2020.

From working with both new and existing farmers over the past number of years, I have seen first-hand the importance of implementing a good dry cow programme and, alternatively, the problems arising in its absence.

James Gorman, Co. Kilkenny, is one farmer whom I started working with this time last year, that had experienced a high incidence rate of milk fever – 15 cows out of his herd of 90 were affected in spring 2018.

When I started working with him, we identified aspects of his dry cow management that needed improving and we set about implementing a dry cow plan for his herd, focusing on the four pillars of the Alltech dry cow programme.

Four pillars:
  • Body condition score (BCS);
  • Minerals;
  • Management;
  • Nutrition.

The same farmer recorded only two cases of milk fever in spring this year and he puts the success down to the improved dry cow programme implemented on his farm, with the aid of the InTouch technology on his diet feeder.

Before starting dry cow feeding this year, it is essential to take note of where you are coming from and assess the level of health issues encountered this spring; you must also realise the costs associated with these problems.

Anything above 2% for the main health challenges can be regarded as an issue and needs to be addressed.

To emphasise the importance of assessment, one must appreciate the average costs of health issues, as outlined by Dr. Eoin Ryan from University College Dublin (UCD) (2014), as they can have a significant financial impact on your herd when multiplied by the number of cases.

  • Retained foetal membranes (RFM) – €392;
  • Milk fevers – €312;
  • Displaced abomasum (DA) – €514;
  • Ketosis – €190;
  • Metritis – €188.

Some farms will deem these costs high, as they are just looking at the cost of the vet or the treatment. But, they forget to add on the value of the herdsperson’s labour or time in the treatment of the animal, the milk that is discarded or the potential future production that is lost as a result.

This animal may inevitably have to be culled or, worse again, adding a cost for mortality of the calf or the cow.

Dy cow health issues can also be referred to as ‘gateway diseases’, as they open the door for other indirect costs associated with other diseases on the farm.

They do this by compromising the immunity of the animals or exacerbating body condition loss in early lactation, which incurs major costs on a lot of farms, not to mention the knock-on effect on milk solids and fertility, by extending the calving interval or a six-week calving rate.

A lot of these issues can also be silent. For instance, 80% of milk fever cases can be mild or sub-clinical, where there is no ‘downer’ cow or a need to intervene other than assisting a slow calving. But in these cases, there is still a cost involved, as well as a negative impact on the cow and production.

Lost production is also something that is not fully appreciated. While we notice that it takes some time for the cow to come back into milk and begin to perform again, the volume of this decrease is underestimated.

For instance, as per the 2014 Daisy report in the UK, the average lost production from retained foetal membranes is 415L, 540L for a case of milk fever and 557L for a displaced abomasum.

Also, for the retained foetal membranes, there was an extra 22 days placed on the cow’s calving interval and a 19% increased chance of them being culled.

All these issues are preventable, even though it feels like they are impossible to solve when they occur in the middle of your tight calving season, when there is limited time to give to the cure and the long-term solution.

More information

Over the next eight weeks, AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

For more information on the Alltech dry cow action plan, call Alltech on: 059-910-1320 to get in touch with an Alltech representative; or click here