Feed systems give farmers more control

Tips on how to minimise post-peak decline in milk production

It has been a challenging spring for most South Island farmers. Some of us had snow on the ground in September, followed by continuous hail and sleet for days or even weeks. It was hard on man, beast and the land. Cows, just at the point of gaining condition again, lost another 20 to 40kg live-weight in a fortnight. Some herds which were just starting to hit 2kg MS per cow, dropped back to 1.5 - 1.7kg MS.

The value of an in-shed feeding system with the ability to feed cows high-energy feeds like Milkmax at 15+ MJME/kgDM with all the essential minerals, has proven to be effective. Farmers who  normally feed 2 to 3kg stepped up to 4 to 5kg of dairy pellets/grain per cow per day, covering 25 to 40% of the cow’s daily energy requirements via the shed. In-shed feeding sometimes gets associated with “buying milk production” and “substitution of pasture” but the farmers who used the tool this spring, managed to look after their cows: with no extra condition loss or delayed cycling as a consequence. Also these farmers managed to fire the cows still on all four cylinders and achieved peak productions of 2 to 2.5kg MS.

Basically it showed the feed system mitigates part of the weather risk and gives the farmer more control over the outcomes for the season. A sheltered stand-off area, feed pad or wintering barn, have proven to be very useful assets to help look after the pastures and the cows. Many farmers have been stitching up pugged paddocks to increase the grass growing area and reduce the weed growing area.

Getting the most out of the season. A good peak of 2 to 2.5kg MS per cow or 6 to 8kg MS/ha/day sounds really good, but the challenge is to hang on to this as long as possible and keep the so called ‘post-peak decline’ to a minimum, ideally below a 5% drop per month. Plenty of dairy herds drop over 10% in production in the December and January months.

The most common factors are drop off in pasture quality, lameness, heat stress (depending on distance to the Antarctic) and reduction in grain feeding level. Often the fact cows are
getting pregnant is mentioned, but this only affects cows in the last one-third of pregnancy.
A significant drop in December/January milk production quite often means feed (quality) requirements are not met (as explained above). This in its turn can affect early pregnancy in cows, and recent research by DairyNZ has highlighted that early embryonal loss plays an important role in the empty rate of the herd and the number of inductions the following season. Obviously minimising post peak decline (PPD) is important for a number of reasons.

  1. Following the practical guidelines below will help you to keep the PPD to a minimum:
    Maintaining pasture quality (ie 12+ MJ ME and 20%+ protein)
    • Maintain grazing residuals between 1500 and 1600kg DM/ha.
    • Surplus pasture on the milking platform should be taken out of paddock rotation and kept for baleage or silage. Mow these paddocks before they are two cans high, ie within 10 days after leaving it out of the rotation
    • Top the paddocks or use another stock class to get the residuals back to
    target levels
    Applying nitrogen helps tillering and new leaf formation
    Walk around the farm with the whole team and explain what quality and target residuals look like so everybody understands what to look for
    • Get some pre-grazing pasture samples analysed for feed quality and discuss with your Farmlands technical field officer or farm advisor.
  2. Don’t forget to stay on top of animal health issues
    • Keep up the magnesium levels via the water and dairy pellets/meal or mineral concentrate pellets in the shed. What is enough on one farm may not be enough on another farm, due to the difference in production levels, pasture composition, etc. Talk to your feed specialist and ask your vet for blood analysis of the herd.
    • Ensure your herd has adequate copper, selenium, cobalt and iodine via the feed or water system.
  3. Utilise the in-shed feeding system to help to control post peak decline
    • Increase feeding level if pasture quality is temporarily reduced and/or during periods of bad weather from 1 to 2kg, up to 3 to 4kg
    • Monitor the vat, residuals and your cows, to make the right decision
    • If you run two or more herds or you can adjust cows individually via EID you can feed higher-producing or skinnier cows extra and fat cows less.
  4. Besides the normal range, Farmlands has developed two dairy pellets especially for the summer period:
    • The Dairy Summer Milk is a cost-effective option to keep feeding during summer
    • The Dairy Summer Protein Plus for high performing herds or dairy farms with summer, dry-pasture quality issues.

For further details or advice on how to maintain cow production, talk to your Farmlands Feed specialist or technical field officer.