Dairy farmers are being faced with the prospect of reducing volumes, and experts are urging them to take action now to do this, but also ensure the future of the herd is not damaged.
WITH a significant number of dairy farmers now having to taking action to pull back milk production, nutritionist Hefin Richards emphasised the importance of making changes that have a short-term impact on production, but also protect prospects in the longer-term.
Speaking at an AHDB-organised webinar, Mr Richards, from Rumenation Nutrition Consultancy, said that business which wanted to get through this current crisis must have an eye on the future.
He said: “We need to maintain the potential to rebuild the herd, and production levels post Covid-19 restrictions and the spring flush that we find ourselves in.
“This is not a positive scenario, but it is about damage limitation.”
To achieve this, Mr Richards said there were a number of areas dairy farmers could take action on.
Firstly he suggested culling target or prospective culls earlier than planned if the market allowed, or alternatively removing these cows from the milking herd to graze them.
However, he said while this might have an immediate impact, it did not always have the anticipated longer term effect.
He said: “What can happen is that this frees up extra space in the sheds, and at the feed fence for the rest of the herd which then go on to produce more milk.
“I am not saying do not do it, but you need to consider this may only give you a short-term hit.”
He said, while it might not be an option for everyone, there was the possibility of selling some fresh calvers.
He said: “Provided you are free from TB restrictions, there may be an option of selling fresh calvers to flying herds who still want these animals.”
Mr Richards said one of the biggest areas for damage limitation was grazing, and he advised grazing
a proportion, the whole herd, or more cows than normal if possible and infrastructure and cow type allowed.
“If you normally house all your herd all year-round, and grazing is limited, consider grazing the mid and late lactation cows if possible,” he said.
Another area to make changes was through the cutting of concentrate levels, and especially higher protein feeds.
“This will be farm specific, and the higher input herds will have a greater scope to make these sort of changes,” he said.
He added that while there is as opportunity to remove supplements and fats from diets he would be cautious about removing minerals entirely from diets.
“We need to keep basic minerals in the diet, especially magnesium if cows are grazing more,” he said.
Feeding whole milk to calves was another option, but Mr Richards gave a word of caution about Johne’s disease. He said: “If you are doing this, consider identifying the mature cows in the herd which have been subject to Johne’s testing for a number of lactations, and use their milk, which could be considered ‘low risk’.”
He said that some herds which were milking three times a day, should consider dropping down to twice a day milking, but he was also cautious about the viability of moving from twice a day to once a day milking.
He said: “I would be worried that if you did this it would be difficult to build up some momentum again once this has all passed.”
He added it was important producers had ‘an eye on the other side’. “We need healthy cows with the target number pregnant,” he said. “So it is important to focus on these early lactation cows. “We need to get them pregnant again as we do not want a lot of empty, low production cows when the market is through this.”
VET Owen Atkinson, from the Dairy Veterinary Consultancy, urged farmers not to panic and avoid focusing solely on short-term gains.
He said it was important not to stop doing things which would look after the future health and viability of the herd.
He said: “As an example, at this time of year many dairy farmers will be carrying out routine vaccinations, for
diseases such as lepto and BVD.
“Please do not stop these. If you do, then you will end up with more trouble to deal with when we come out of this.”
Similarly he advised producers to continue with health testing, which would provide a strong base for the future of the herd.
He also said it was important to protect the ‘pipeline’ of the herd – the heifer replacements.
He said: “Do not cut back on feeding replacement heifers, do not neglect disease control and feet, and keep a focus on fertility and age at first calving.”