Most farmers take things a bit easier with physical work over the Christmas Season.
A break from physical work often results in more planning and thinking about the future. Generally this is good, but mental work such as planning can be more stressful than physical work and should be given a skip for three or four days over the Christmas.
However, after the break there are many important management, mental and physical tasks to be carried out. Traditionally, most farmers feel guilty if they are not doing physical work and regard thinking and planning as a waste of time.
This attitude is changing; the hallmark of every successful farmer is proper allocation of time between planning and physical work and of course adequate breaks from both.
Some dairy farmers will continue to milk cows into winter this season to avail of the good milk price. With almost one third of our dairy cows calving after late March this should not prevent an adequate dry period. However, many other factors should be considered. If the condition of cows is poor or if silage quality is poor the economic return from milking into January is unlikely to be profitable due to the amount of concentrates that would be required to produce good quality milk. On the other hand if cows are in good condition and silage quality is over 70 DMD, there is good profit to be made in continuing to milk late calvers if they are producing 12 to 14 L good quality milk from a few kgs of concentrates.
One of the most important and neglected aspects of Irish dairy farming is herd health. Surveys indicate that herd health is a major determinant of profitability in dairying.
This not only includes mastitis, lameness, parasites but also relatively new diseases such as BVD, IBR, Neospora and Johnes. Every farmer should establish the health status of their herds through bulk milk and/or blood tests and develop a heard health programme with their vet. This is getting more attention in recent years and is the subject of research projects by Teagasc and universities.
Animal Health Ireland is working with all stakeholders and coordinating the solutions to health problems. Progress with eliminating BVD is very welcome and actions being taken now to force the small percentage of farmers who fail to get rid of their PI animals will speed up eradication of the disease.
The original objective of eradication of BVD by 2020 looks achievable with over 95% of herds clear in 2016. Very soon there should be a large number of herds with Negative Herd Status which will be a great advantage. Good progress is also being made with controlling and eradicating other serious diseases. Johnes disease poses a real threat to our dairy, and is being seriously tackled.
The importance of Condition Score (C.S) is receiving a lot of attention at present because more and more evidence is emerging from around the world that it has a huge effect on the health and performance of cows.
Research and experience shows that it is critical to have cows calving down at C.S. 3 to 3.25 (Too fat is as bad as too thin) and have a C.S. of about 2.75 to 3.25 at service. Having the correct C.S. has been shown to increase milk yield by up to one gallon per cow per day and increase fertility rates by up to 50%. Based on worldwide research, a number of very effective dry cow systems have been developed which results in healthy animals calving down.