The View from Northern Ireland: Focus on feed rate not yield per cowThis was the key message from a dairy cow feed efficiency event organised by College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise on the farm of John and Roger Mc Cracken outside Ballywalter last month.

There is no doubt the combination of higher milk prices and lower feed costs have improved the economics of milk production to some extent but this should not be taken as an excuse to push feed levels in the hope of producing more milk. While yields may increase, there is no guarantee the response will be as expected or the extra yield will be profitable.

Some key management tips highlighted at the event:

Maximise dry matter (DM) intake with good diet formulation and continuous assessment of the ration offered to cows. Providing a minimum of 600- 800 mm feed space and 10 cm water drinker space per cow will also help improve DM intake and reduce stress on freshly calved cows.

Introduce concentrates slowly. Adding concentrate too quickly, in an attempt to provide energy, can lead to Sub Acute Rumen Acidosis. Set parlour feeders to slowly build up the concentrate feeding level over a five to 10 day period after calving.

Marginal litres can pay but the aim must be to ensure optimum use is made of forage as it is feed rate, not yield per cow that drives profit.

Check your in-parlour feeding is set correctly.

Forage shortage

If you think you may be short of forage this winter, now is the time to act. Early identification of a shortage is the first, and most important step, to ensure you don’t have a major feed problem later. If you want any help calculating your forage stocks contact your local Dairying Development Adviser.

Tackling digital dermatitis

Is digital dermatitis a problem on your farm? In a recent farm survey on lameness carried out by AFBI, Hillsborough, 45 of the 57 businesses visited reported they had digital dermatitis in the herd, so the problem is widespread. Routine foot bathing is the most practical way to control the spread of digital dermatitis disease, but to be successful it must be carried out effectively. Without regular foot bathing the incidence of digital dermatitis will increase by five per cent per week during winter housing.

Foot bathing

Ideally provide a double foot bath; a bath to wash feet in followed by a treatment bath. The wash bath is needed to remove manure which reduces the effectiveness of the chemical in the treatment bath. If there is not enough space to fit in both baths, then clean the feet with a hose in the parlour before foot bathing on the way out to the feed passage.

To allow time for good penetration of the chemical the cow needs to take at least three strides through the treatment bath, therefore the bath must be at least three metres long. Fill the bath to a depth of 10 cm to ensure the foot is covered up to the top of the hoof.

The frequency of treatment will depend on the incidence of infection in the herd. To get on top of a widespread problem (over 30 per cent of the herd affected) an intensive regime is needed, for example, seven days on seven days off. The minimum regime, even when not targeting a specific problem, is to bath for three consecutive days per month.

Farm safety

Remember to think safe around the farm. In particular be aware of dangerous slurry gases if you are transferring slurry.

Preparing for severe weather

Preparation is key to dealing with severe weather conditions. Some of the management tips on how to prepare for severe weather conditions in the beef and sheep notes are equally applicable to a dairy farm. Take a read and implement, where possible, any that are relevant to your farm.

Management notes by Conail Keown of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Pictured: Tackling digital dermatitis – a foot bath water depth of 10 cm is required to cover the hoof