Spring fertility roadshow highlights the key dairy issues

David McConkey, Antrim, Richard Dudgeon, Alltech, Jenny Hamilton, United Feeds and Sam Watson, United Feeds
David McConkey, Antrim, Richard Dudgeon, Alltech, Jenny Hamilton, United Feeds and Sam Watson, United Feeds

Cows must be provided with total comfort throughout their dry period, so as to ensure a successful calving, according to Co Antrim vet Joe O’Donnell.

“This includes the provision of adequately sized cubicles plus ample feed trough and water space.

Roadshow host Andrew Adair loads a new Keenan tub feeder

Roadshow host Andrew Adair loads a new Keenan tub feeder

“Great care must be taken when introducing new animals to a dry cow group, so as to minimise stress levels for all the animals involved.

“At calving, cows should be placed in well bedded pens that are directly adjacent to the dry cow accommodation, again so as to minimise stress.”

Mr O’Donnell was one of the speakers at the recent Spring Dairy Fertility Road Show, held on the Kells dairy farm of James and Andrew Adair. The event was hosted by Keenan and Alltech.

Mr O’Donnell is a member of the professional team with the Caddy veterinary practice in Randalstown. He said that eight week is the optimal dry cow period for a dairy cow.

“Cows should be scanned during mid-pregnancy to ascertain their exact calving date. Simply going by an insemination date is not accurate enough. Increasing numbers of farms are now using heat detection technology to facilitate their breeding programmes.

“Again, this is additional information that can be used to ascertain calving dates, should cows be running with a bull.”

In preparation for the upcoming breeding season, Mr O’Donnell cited a number of management priorities.

“Cows should be achieving high dry matter intakes,” he said.

“Good udder and hoof health are also important. If a cow is off her feet, she won’t feed and she won’t breed.”

Mr O’Donnell pointed out that cows that had experienced milk fever after calving will, inevitably, prove difficult to get back in calf.

“Bull selection is also an important factor in determining cow fertility.

“Sires with any form of calving difficulty associated with them should be avoided at all costs. Problems of this nature will only set the cows back and delay her significantly when it comes to conceiving again.”

Mr O’Donnell said that dry cow management has an impact on all of the factors that come into play, from a fertility perspective.

“Body condition score is the key driver in this regard. Cows should have a score of 3.0 at calving. In fact, dairy farmers should make it a priority to have their cows with this level of condition the year round.”

Courtesy of her presentation, United Feeds’ ruminant nutritionist Jenny Hamilton highlighted the specific feeding and management procedures that should be followed with dairy cows during the dry and fresh periods.

“Negative energy balance is inevitable,” she said.

“However, reproductive performance, be it time to first ovulation, signs of heats, or embryo survival, have all been shown to be adversely associated with both the magnitude and duration of negative energy balance in early lactation.

“The key to reducing the energy deficit and time spent in it is through a combination of correct management procedures and balanced nutrition.”

Jenny also stressed the importance of managing cows effectively during the dry period.

“Body Condition Score is king,” she added. “Body Condition loss post calving loss is correlated to subsequent reductions in conception rates.

“Forages fed during the dry period should be palatable but low in potash. Silages that are high in potassium act to reduce magnesium availability at calving. This predisposes cows to milk fever.

“The weeks prior to calving should be split into far-off and close-up periods with the latter used to specifically prime the cow for her next lactation

“If mineral reserves are less than adequate at calving, the cow is at greater risk of deficiency at a time when exposure to disease is highest. This period also coincides with reduced dry matter intake and requires maximum bio-availability of any nutrients including trace minerals.”

The new Keenan vertical feeder will not provide a MechFiber standard feed-mix, according to the company’s Irish Sales Manager Cathal Gibbons.

“But it is as close as we can get to that with a vertical-auger mixing system,” he said.

“This is why it is important for users of the new ‘vertical’ machines to opt for the InTouch nutrition service on an ongoing basis. InTouch is a 12-month inclusion on all new machines. Farmers can then opt to continue with it, or not, after that.”

Mr Gibbons was another of the speakers at the dairy fertility roadshow. The event marked the first practical demonstration of the company’s new tub feeder in Northern Ireland.

Mr Gibbons explained that the vertical feeders fill a gap in the market for Keenan.

“They have a smaller footprint, compared with the paddle feeder, thereby becoming more versatile in some situations. The machines have a range of capacities – from 18m³ to 44m³. The rule of thumb is that each cubic metre equates to a feeding capacity of eight dairy cows.

“Machines with a capacity of less than 21m³ are single-axle units. All models above this capacity are double-axle units.”

Mr Gibbons claims that the machines are “robust in nature”.

He explained:“They have been built to last, with a particular focus placed on the strength and durability of the mixing augers. All blades have been tungsten-coated. Farmers can select the feed-out option that best suits their farm and their sheds. Feeding out from both sides of the machine is possible; it all depends what way the machine is specified.”