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Heavy snow can be tough on farming families and staff, both physically and emotionally. When snow hits during early lactation, ensure the safety of your family, staff, and livestock. Move animals to safe areas with shelter and water, and ensure they can't wander. Check power, phones, and neighbours. Use generators to keep essential equipment running and monitor local radio for updates. Prioritise moving stock to appropriate areas, feeding them carefully, and ensuring they have clean water. Separate weaker animals for special care. Check access routes and communicate with neighbours and dairy companies. Adjust feeding plans and monitor stock health, especially when introducing new feeds. Consider reduced milking frequencies if needed and always monitor body condition scores and somatic cell counts.
Bouts of heavy snow are hard physically and emotionally on farming families and staff as they worked in freezing conditions. Use the information below to deal with snow in early lactation.
Feeding to manage animal stress and to maintain as much condition as possible is critical in a snow situation. On most farms, at present, the major problem will largely be a feed one with most farms nearing the end of their first round.
Beware of introducing a different feed type too quickly. Changing from mainly pasture to high carbohydrate supplements like cereals can cause rapid changes in rumen fermentation and there is a risk of developing acidosis, sometimes called "grain overload", which can kill cows.
If your herd was on pasture, introduce pasture-based supplements first - hay, grass silage.
Start with 2-3kg of grain or other supplements per day and very gradually increase the amount as necessary over at least two weeks. It may be possible to graze deteriorating (but not rotting) pastures after snow disappear, and this will allow quicker regrowth while providing some dilution of high carbohydrate supplements.
Keep up calcium and magnesium supplements. Magnesium is especially important early in lactation when cows are vulnerable to ketosis, particularly if they are underfed.
Animals will quickly get stressed when they have to deal with the physical effects of a heavy snowstorm. Ensure that they are monitored throughout the event.
Power cuts will probably mean that some milkings will be missed, but cows are resilient. DairyNZ research has shown that delays of up to a week can be tolerated by mid-lactation herds, and with careful handling, they can return to full or near-full milk production...read more
Once A Day (OAD) milking is an option to reduce pressure on the staff but it comes at the cost of reducing the potential milk production for the season. OAD cows in early lactation will consume the same amount of feed as TAD milked cows, therefore this should not be seen as a strategy to save the feed.
For high-producing herds (>1.7 kg MS/cow/day) 16 hours or 3 milkings in 2 days may be a better option than OAD milking. Recent research is not available on the impact of this milking regime on subsequent milk production however farmer experience would suggest that carryover effects are less than those experienced with OAD milking.
The BCS in which a cow calves, the amount of BCS she loses post calving and the BCS she falls to before starting to gain condition (nadir BCS) are all associated with milk production, reproduction and health.
Cows that lose the most condition in early lactation OR are the thinnest at mating are less likely to be submitted for AI and less likely to become pregnant.
4 to 5% less pregnant at 6 weeks and 3 to 4% less pregnant at 12 weeks if:
In comparison, cows that are gaining live weight before mating are more likely to get pregnant, however, this effect is small:
Feeding to minimise BCS loss prior to mating is therefore a higher priority than feeding cows well during the mating period.
Increased overseas genetics in the herd results in increased BCS loss in early lactation, especially in pasture-only systems.
Most research shows no linkage between supplementary feeds (grain, molasses) and improved BCS in early lactation or fertility in dairy cows. Supplementing cows with 3 or 6 kg DM of concentrates did nothing to the amount of BCS lost during the first 6 weeks of lactation
Supplementing cows with energy supplements from around 6 weeks after calving can increase the rate of BCS gain and may improve fertility in cows that would otherwise be underfed.
Milking cow's OAD in early lactation does little to alleviate BCS loss early lactation, but it improves the rate of live weight gain after 6 weeks in milk.
Due to missed milkings or a short-term move to OAD farmers should expect big fluctuations in SCC and the likelihood of increased clinicals. Farmers can expect their bulk tank SCC to potentially double from their pre-snow levels.