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3 areas dairy farmers should focus on to prepare for spring 2021

The 2020 dairy season is almost finished on most spring-calving herds, writes Michael Donoghue, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc, Galway/Clare Region.

Some are dry, while others will milk on for another 2 or 3 weeks before drying off for the year. Decisions made over the next few weeks will have long-lasting consequences for the profitability for the dairy business in 2021.

Some of the key areas are discussed below.

Grass:

The wet weather since August will mean that on a lot of heavy farms, cows have been housed early. On these farms, the challenge will be getting the heavy covers grazed in spring.

So, taking any and all opportunities to get calved out to grass in spring will be essential. Start with lower covers to get cows used to tight grazing. Then target the fields with the heavier covers.

On dryer farms, the target will be to have the farm closed with an AFC of 650 to 750. This should mean with some modest winter growth opening AFC should be in the region of 900.

Soil sampling is an essential part of grassland management. December/ January before slurry is spread is a perfect time to soil sample, as no P has been applied in the previous months. So, take this opportunity to soil sample, get a fertiliser plan done and target the nutrients to where they are needed.

BCS:

The general rules for dry cow periods are;

  • Cows – 8weeks
  • 1st lactation cows – 12 weeks
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So, for a first lactation cow calving in the 1st week of February, should have been dry for the last 4 weeks. Any cow that needs a bit of extra TLC, so was lame, thin or expecting twins, ECT.

She will need an extra 2 to 3 weeks dry or a kilo or 2 of ration. The periods above are based on good silage, greater than 67 DMD, if this is not the case ration will be required and/ or longer dry.

Drying off cows:

Drying off cows is often viewed as a tedious and time-consuming job but is probably one of the most important jobs of the dairy year.

Get it right and it offers the opportunity to potentially cure cows with mastitis and permanently lower the SCC. However, get it wrong and quarters can be lost or cows get very sick.

The critical thing when drying off cows is hygiene and not rushing. Cows should be clipped and separated before drying off. Small batches should be done in a day, 10 to 20 depending on help.

Wear gloves and disinfect the teat end well before inserting dry cow tube/ sealer. Ideally, cows should go out to a dry field for a week after drying. If this is not possible, cubicles need to be kept very clean and limed twice-a-day while cows soak up.

Above are 3 key areas that will affect the profitability of the dairy business in 2021. Of course, there are more that will need to be addressed but get the above 3 correct and 2021 will start off a lot easier.

Beef Conference

This year’s Teagasc National Beef Conference moves online with a series of three virtual events to take place across three days, on Tuesday 1st – Thursday, December 3rd at 8.00pm each day.

The focus will be on winter nutrition, animal health and beef markets while improving sustainability.

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