Dry summer management strategies
Sell off remaining culls
Any obvious culls should have gone by now, with only the final empties to go. If you haven’t already booked final pregnancy test dates by early in the New Year, this should be a priority.
Reduce milking frequency
Although this has little effect on feed requirements, moving to once-a-day (OAD) or three times in two days can take the pressure off cows and staff, as well as give managers more time to plan and manage.
- Somatic cell count (SCC) typically doubles when cows are switched to OAD.
- Staggering the herd’s transition to OAD milking over a few days can help prevent a big spike in SCC.
- Cows milked OAD during mid/late lactation are approximately a quarter body condition score more at dry off compared with those milked twice-a-day.
- BCS improvement takes time, it’s not until about six weeks of OAD milking that BCS differences are detectable.
- Milk production drops by approximately 10% when cows are milked OAD postChristmas.
- In order to gain BCS benefits, and prevent large drops in milk production don’t underfeed cows while they are on OAD milking. There is only a small decrease in feed intake (approx. 3%), when cows are milked OAD.
- Farmers recommend switching to OAD while feed is still plentiful (4-5 days of feed ahead or supplements available).
For more information see Dry summer management - milking OAD or three times every two days (Farmfact 1-33c)
Use supplements wisely
Feeding supplements keeps animals in production longer than would otherwise be possible in a dry summer.
- First and foremost, earmark 10-14 days of supplement for the period after rain occurs (approximately 100kg DM/cow). There will be a lot of pasture decay at this time and you will need something to keep your cows going, allowing pasture to recover.
- Supplements can increase stock water intakes, so systems must be in place to cope with the increased demand. Consider providing water in the yards to reduce the demand on troughs in the paddock after milking
- Watch diet protein levels. Offer pasture silage to milking stock first, as it will have more protein than maize silage.
- Remember to include your winter supplement requirements in your planning as well. Avoid using these supplements if possible. Use them only as a last resort after drying off the entire herd
- If grazing turnips, make sure you give enough of them to meet cow energy demands and that all animals can feed at once
- Bought in supplements such as Palm Kernel Extract/Tapioca mixes and maize silage are an option. Seek professional advice before using unfamiliar feed mixes on your stock.
Supplements can be profitable, providing you apply best practice management and purchase the supplement at the right price.
Only purchase and feed out supplements if you have:
- Residuals below 7 clicks or less on the rising plate meter (under 1500 kgDM/ha using
the winter formula)
- Determined the maximum supplement price you can afford to pay and still make a profit
- The ability to avoid feed losses and wastage when storing and feeding out the supplement.
The immediate milk response is unlikely to fully cover the cost, but if feeding results in maintaining more cows in milk when it does rain the returns can be significant.
A profitable return from supplements will depend on:
- The quality of the supplement – higher energy and protein makes it more affordable
- The ability to store and feed the supplement without high levels of wastage
- The likelihood that feeding supplement results in cows still milking later in the season
- Grazing residuals being above or below desired levels. Is overgrazing already occurring?
However, not all feeds are the same in how much protein and fat they will produce for the same MS response and there are differences in the amount of supplement required for BCS gain in dry cows. The Supplement price calculator takes these factors into account.
Look after your irrigated pasture
If you are irrigating, monitor soil moisture levels regularly. Consider signing up to NIWAFarmMet - a subscription weather forecast and information service.
Have a contingency plan for when water restrictions are applied. One option is to fully water the best part of your farm, rather than watering the whole farm poorly.
Irrigated crops can provide a high return.
Be mindful of heat stress. Although effects of heat stress are more severe in hot climates such as in parts of America and Australia, dairy cows in areas of New Zealand are affected by heat stress during summer.
For more information see the Heat stress page.
- Reviewing herd numbers for best returns (Inside Dairy December 2015)
- Dry summer management - culling cows.
- Information on milking once a day post-Christmas