Tipp dairy farmer focuses on early lactation management to drive farm success

Donal Maher, a dairy farmer from Drangan in south Tipperary, will calve 170 Friesian cows this spring – an increase of 20 cows on last year.

Grazed on a 75ha grazing block, the herd’s average milk production stood at 5,900L/cow in 2016 with milk solids production reaching 477kg/cow.

Approaching a point where his grassland potential is nearly maximised, Maher looked at cost-effective ways to improve his farms profitability by using bought-in and home-grown feed.

To achieve this he began working closely with Michael Cleary, a Nutritionist from Specialist Nutrition, who he has been working with for over ten years now.

Through an increased focus on nutritional management, Donal and Michael have improved farm performance in a sustainable and profitable way; growing cow numbers from 37 to today’s 170 strong herd.

Achieving this strong farm growth, while also sustaining impressive fertility rates and increasing yields, has proven that it can be accomplished in a very profitable way.

2016 Farm Facts:
  • 150 Friesian cows
  • 5,935L average yield
  • 477kg milk solids produced per cow
  • 370-day calving interval
  • 10% average increase in intakes

Performance and fertility can go together

Ensuring cows reach their yield potential while maintaining strong milk solids throughout the year is the key principle Donal and Michael have worked together to achieve.

The successful formula has been to provide Donal’s cows with a balanced, high-energy diet, once they calve, through a combination of grass silage, wholecrop cereals, straights and Liquigold.

Body condition score is constantly monitored along with milk solids. Feed is then manipulated to suit conditions, whether cows are housed full-time during the winter or are buffer-fed during the spring and autumn grazing months.

Donal explained that it’s vital to feed your cows well in the first 12 weeks after calving.

Through this focus, I’ve been able to manage a tight calving interval of under 370 days in the past few years, even with some of the poor springs we’ve experienced.

Paying close attention to nutrition during this critical period enabled Donal to achieve an impressive 74% six-week calving rate last year.

Michael Clearly has been working with Donal for the past 10 years
Michael Clearly has been working with Donal for the past 10 years

“In early lactation, it is essential to provide a high-energy, palatable diet during the breeding season and up to 60 days in calf to increase dry matter intakes and minimise body condition loss,” Michael Cleary explained.

“This is achieved by using products like Liquigold, wholecrop and a choice of straights, then balancing them correctly in terms of nutrition and mineral content.”

Donal added that he is in regular contact with Michael during the crucial spring period to make dietary adjustments until all animals are at grass full-time.

Managing the nutrition of the herd

Detailed analysis and management of his herd’s diet have been the key to Donal’s and Michael’s success in maximising farm success.

Specifically, once the cows calve down, Donal feeds a forage-based diet; which provides fibre, high energy and dilutes the protein to complement spring grass.

Once the Dry Matter increases in later spring grass, Donal eases off buffer feeding to rely more heavily on his grazing platform and a small amount of home-mixed parlour concentrate.

The Tipperary-based farmer limits parlour concentrates to 2kg maximum feed-rate throughout the lactation period.

Managing his herd’s nutritional programme in this way allows Donal to make high-quality first cut grass silage in early May, without conflicting with fresh grass demands from the milking herd.

Liquigold, at 1.5kg per head, has particularly helped his management of the herd’s body conditioning throughout the buffer feeding period.

“Before using Liquigold I experienced greater fluctuations in herd body condition loss.

I have now reduced this loss after calving which, in turn, has helped to increase submission rates – especially at the early stages of the breeding season.

“I credit this to an increased intake of up to 10% due to Liquigold’s palatability, along with the balance of protein and energy that Liquigold provides in the diet,” Donal said.

Michael agrees, explaining that “Liquigold helps to blend the overall TMR mix together to minimise sorting and guarantee cows are feeding at a consistent rate for the entire day.”

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Another product Donal uses is Vistacell; a high density live yeast additive that increases the growth of beneficial rumen bacteria, which removes oxygen from the rumen.

“Since using Vistacell I’ve noticed the cows dung is a lot more consistent and I’ve seen less cases of soft dung throughout the whole herd.

“I can also visibly see a better fill in cows and they appear to be more content,” he said.

In addition Vistacell enables cows to settle better into the introduction of new ingredients in their diets, like spring grass, while still maintaining relatively high levels of dry feed.

Working together

Donal said: “Working with Michael from Specialist Nutrition has enabled me to review my full nutritional programme to ensure I have absolute control over my herd’s diet, while continuing to drive farm profitability.

“As we all know, no two springs are the same so I need to have flexibility within my nutritional plan while ensuring I deliver a consistent performance.

“This, along with using Liquigold and Vistacell, has improved my herd’s performance and overall herd health; giving me a more sustainable farming enterprise and a big increase in farm profitability,” he said.

Donal is looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming spring and, with the help of Michael Cleary, will be working hard to manage his herd’s nutrition to ensure maximum farm profitability in 2017.

Specialist Nutrition offers a wide range of Moist Feeds and animal feed solutions for both dairy cows and beef cattle.

To speak to one of the Specialist Nutrition team for a consultation or for further product information, call +353 (0)51 833 071