While every farm situation is different your focus should now be on:
- Protecting next seasons production and reproduction by getting cows to their BCS target
- Achieving maximum profitable milksolids production over the rest of the current season
- Managing the risk of the dry conditions on the overall farm business and on achievement of long-term goals.
April 1 is a critical date for deciding on actions to take to achieve June 1 targets for BCS, pasture cover and subsequent calving. This is because pasture growth in April/May will be required to restore pasture covers. This pasture growth in this period will only be sufficient to meet maintenance demand with no gain in BCS and pasture cover achieved.
The following example is used to illustrate this
Current farm cover = 1400kgDM/ha (target typically 2200-2400kgDM/ha by 1st June)
Average cow condition = 4.25 (target 5)
Average Stocking rate: 2.8 cows/ha
Maintenance requirements for 2 months = 8kg DM/cow/day
Maintenance demand = 23kgDM/ha/d (2.8*8)
Average pasture supply for 2 months = 23kgDM/ha/day
This shows that if all the potential pasture growth in April/May is consumed, only maintenance demand has been met. No gain in BCS and pasture cover will be made. To achieve BCS and pasture cover targets will rely on 100% on supplementary feed.
While you have no control over the weather there are still things you can do to make the most of the current season and minimise the impact going forward.
Have a feed response plan and review it regularly, preferably weekly
Keep reviewing the condition of your cows and the amount of feed on hand. The assumptions you make at the beginning of week may not hold true by the end of the week.
It’s important to have a good up-to-date working knowledge of pasture and supplement feed supplies, including feed ordered. This enables you to regularly assess the risk associated with your situation.
Have a Plan B just in case the dry weather continues into March/April.
Reduce feed demand
With the lack of moisture, pasture covers are falling and a shortage of pasture feed is looming, or already present in an increasing number of cases.
Actions to be considered include using supplementary feed (making sure it’s profitable to do so and available pasture is grazed) and/or reducing feed demand by:
- Getting rid of obvious culls such as empties and obligatory culls as soon as culling information is available
- Targeting at risk cows for drying off: cows with low BCS (3.5 or less), younger cows and lower producers
- Grazing-off all non-milking "keep" cows
- OAD milking or ‘three times in two days’. This can take the pressure off cows and staff as well as giving you more time to plan and manage. When switching to OAD be wary of the impact on somatic cell counts (SCC) as for a few days SCC can rise to double that of cows milked twice a day. Use recent herd test results to help create a low SCC herd for OAD milking.
Protect pastures from over-grazing
Pastures need to be in a good state to grow when it does rain. Prevent over-grazing where possible - keep pasture residuals above six clicks (1400 kg DM/ha or 3 cm) and maintain a rotation length of around 30 days. Source and use supplements to fill any feed deficit.
Use supplements wisely to fill any feed gaps. Earmark two to three weeks of feed for when the rain comes and you have ring fenced your winter requirements. Offer pasture silage first as it will have more protein than maize silage.
If buying-in supplements make sure it’s profitable to do so - if the feed costs more than 5 percent of the milk price then question the likely profitability of purchasing the feed for sustaining milk production.
Cows are more than likely milking-off their backs so sensible management of BCS is crucial to the protection of next season's production. Minimum BCS thresholds become important 120 days before the cows next calving date.
Keep an eye on young stock to ensure they have enough feed and water
Provide supplements if pasture is inadequate. Make hitting growth targets a priority as these animals are the future of your herd.
Look out for each other
Challenging weather conditions can bring stress to people. Reaching out beyond the farm gate is important to help keep things in perspective. Contact the Rural Support Trust if you or someone you know needs help 0800 787 254.