The 2019 dairy season is almost finished on most spring-calving herds with 4 to 6 weeks milking left before drying off for the year, writes Michael Donoghue, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare.
Decisions made over the next few weeks will have long-lasting consequences for the profitability for the dairy business in 2020.
Some of the key areas are discussed below;
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 out again to graze the heaviest of the covers if possible.
If not, this will have to be grazed in spring, when ground conditions allow.
On drier farms, the target will be to have 65% to 75% of the farm closed by the 1st week of November; this ground will provide grazing for the cows in February and early March.
Research has consistently shown that spring grass is twice as valuable as autumn grass.
The general rules for dry cow periods are:
- Cows: 8 weeks
- First-lactation cows: 12 weeks
So, for a first lactation cow calving in the 1st week of February, she should be dry for the last week or two.
If that same cow needed a little extra TLC, eg, was lame, thin or expecting twins, etc, she would need an extra 2 to 3 weeks.
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 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 but if this is not possible cubicles need to be kept very clean while the cows soak up.
Above are 3 key areas that will affect the profitability of the dairy business in 2020. Of course, there are more that will need to be addressed but get the above 3 correct and 2020 will start off a lot easier.