Though dry cows on a dairy may seem less important than those putting milk in the tank, dry cow management is an essential portion of a successful dairy.
“How we treat them prepartum has a lot to do with how they are for the rest of the lactation,” said Jim Fisher, nutritionist for Midwest Ag Services, at the 49th annual Monett Dairy Day in Monett, Missouri.
Though 74 percent of the year involves lactation, a cow may be dry for 11 percent and in transition for 5 percent — and those periods can affect production from her days in milk to her peak lactation.
Fisher recommended looking at dry cow management in two phases: a far-off period and a close-up period. In the far-off period, producers should provide time for mammary involution and maintain body condition.
“3.25 is about where you want to be with condition optimally but you can’t always get that,” he said.
In the close-up period, the nutritionist suggested preparing the rumen for increased intake and a greater starch load and preparing the body for increased demands for calcium, glucose and other nutrients.
“The better you treat the cow, the better the cow is going to treat you,” Fisher said.
In dry lots and pack barns, he suggested providing 152 square feet per cow, keeping it clean, and using a cooling system. When grazing, shade and keeping cows cool is the focus.
Fisher said 100 percent of the top 20 herds in Minnesota use deep bedded stalls with the majority (90 percent) using deep bedded sand. Those 20 herds use a greater stall length of 98.3 inches.
In a free stall, Fisher explained the main objective is to get the cow to lay down.
“One extra hour of laying down equals 3 extra pounds of milk,” he said.
For those wanting to implement a cooling system into a dairy, Fisher said it doesn’t have to be fancy. The goal should be air movement of 7 to 8 miles per hour and uniform coverage. For feedline soaking, 6 to 8 foot nozzle spacing is recommended.
Fisher also showed data indicating keeping dry cows cool has a positive effect on conception rates, pregnancy rates and milk production during lactation.
“Cooling dry cows — all cows — pays,” he emphasized.
For feed and water availability, Fisher said 25 to 35 inches per cow with 90 to 100 percent stocking density in feed bunk space. Offer one water trough with clean water for every 20 cows and allot 2 to 3 inches per cow.
“Clean water is a big, big deal,” he said.
Fisher also emphasized supplementing grazing cows during periods of low grass quality and using feed additives as tools to increase profit. He suggested producers contact a nutritionist or an Extension office to find the most suitable program.
Scott Poock, University of Missouri Extension state dairy veterinarian, gave tips on interpreting Dairy Herd Information test records.
He stressed producers implement the three Ms: measure, monitor and manage. This, he said, will help producers make sound decisions on the dairy.
From reproductive summaries to somatic cell count reports, DHI has proven a valuable tool, Poock said.
“The ‘Hot Sheet’, I think, is one of the very valuable things you get out of DHI,” Poock said, explaining it helps identify high SCC cows so producers can either cull them or culture and treat the problem.
“There is a return on DHI testing,” he said.
Stacey Hamilton, MU Extension dairy specialist, gave producers the opportunity to analyze the cost of feeding raw milk to calves to the spring flush.
He suggested considering the cost of milk, the cost of milk replacer, the cost of a pasteurizer, and other factors by using a spreadsheet which lets producers see a cost comparison.
Joe Horner, MU agricultural economist, explained items to consider when contracting milk and feed for consistent budgets.
Not everyone who contracts is guaranteed higher milk prices or lower feed costs, Horner explained.
“I’ve seen pretty few dairymen go bankrupt,” he said, explaining he has seen those who have stressed themselves into liquidation due to tough financial situations, however.
Horner recommended staying liquid enough to cash flow through the year and maintaining goodwill with vendors.
“People are going to come through for you,” he said, but only if you make a good effort at staying up to date on your bills.
Horner suggested completing a detailed balance sheet every year on Dec. 31 as well as doing a monthly cash flow outlook.
“You don’t want to be depending on the kindness of strangers,” he said.
As for contracting milk prices, Horner said February is the end of a low cycle so now would not be recommend. May to August would be the time to look into forward contracting. Producers should also watch if stock-to-use ratio drops below 12.
Knowing the seasonality of milk and corn as well as milk price cycles and your working capital position and monthly cash flow outlook are key in consistent budgeting, he concluded. £
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