“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – words of wisdom as we near the end of the calving season.
How much madness has crept into the busy spring? Was it calf plague, milk fever, held back cleaning? What was the issue that wasn’t addressed in the last 12 months that caused the same issues to surface in the spring?
Now it’s time to start the verification process and document it in ink in the farm journal. We have endured many nights of disrupted sleep with calving, which can result in blurry memories of events.
Like a new baby in the house, we tend to forget all the difficult things once it’s over, so this is the time to do that check.
We are based on four major areas: cow conversion, calf health, grassland management and labour.
The measures of success surrounding cow transition are easy to count: milk fever, metritis, placenta retention, LDAs, RDAs and ketosis all highlight different aspects of cow management.
One case of milk fever, no metritis or residual flushes showed that BCS and pre-calving nutrition were spot on.
Our sinking this year came in three LDAs over a four day period. Less than 3 percent LDA incidence is considered a normal parameter, but having not had an LDA on the farm for five years we were disappointed.
Risk factors for LDAs include problems with reduced rumen filling around calving, as well as other metabolic or health issues that might predispose cows to displacement.
Up to 86% LDAs appear within the first two weeks after calving, reflecting the importance of high dry matter intake on a high-feed diet.
Our usual approach to ensuring good dry matter intake in fresh cows is to have plenty of haylage available in the calving pens. After calving, the cows go out to pasture for a few hours during the day and are fed silage at night, with the concentrate in the milking parlor gradually increasing to 3 kg over a few days.
This has worked in the past, but in retrospect we have seen that the LDAs coincided with a change in feed quality in the calving pen, combined with a series of cold, wet weather.
This had a clear effect on the dry matter intake of the fresh cows and contributed to reduced rumen filling and the resulting LDAs in that important first two weeks after calving.
One of the benchmarking areas that we monitor closely is BCS loss from calving to breeding. Research has shown that a BCS loss greater than 0.5 units results in a significant drop in conception rates during the breeding season — an effort that we can certainly do without this year.
The surprising thing is that even in herds with a BCS of 3.25 at calving, 30pc lose over 0.5 units in early lactation. The temptation to cut back on expensive concentrate at this point could be costly in situations where weed supply is insufficient.
This all comes back to the importance of dry matter and energy intake in the first 100 days after calving — This period sets the tone for the herd’s fertility performance.
Research has shown that in situations where grass supply is insufficient, 3kg of concentrate supplementation compared to zero concentrate results in a first use conception rate of 64 heads versus a costly 41 heads.
It is so important to be aware of this period of negative energy after calving — Limiting the duration and severity will pay off in the long run.
Assessing our cow conversion has become one of the most important areas of farm management and we build additional monitoring targets year after year to continuously improve.
Management is the primary factor in transitional cow problems and these problems often impact the breeding season and affect fertility performance.
Accepting a high level of transition issues without examining the root of the problem and making changes for next season is a truly missed opportunity.
By taking 15 minutes now to document the issues in black and white, you will have time for resolutions later in the year.
Vets are busy in the spring – they’re under pressure to get from one emergency call to the next – so there’s little point in asking for solutions to a diarrhea or milk fever problem as you leave the yard.
If veterinary assistance is needed to address an annual animal health issue in the spring, this consultation can be scheduled in the fall to help develop a strategy.
Paying for good advice is peanuts compared to calling for problems during peak calving season.
This approach has helped us reduce the risk and incidence of the most common spring animal health issues while leaving the “madness” to others.
Gillian O’Sullivan farms with her husband Neil near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/dairy/dairy-advice/gillian-osullivan-dont-keep-making-the-same-mistakes-at-calving-a-review-of-your-season-will-help-fix-any-recurring-problems-41513461.html Gillian O’Sullivan: Don’t keep making the same mistakes when calving – looking back at your season will help you correct any recurring problems