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Autumn is the time to prepare for calving

Autumn is the time to prepare for calving

There’s a lot of moving parts to finishing off the season, but now’s the time our vets are working with clients to lock in a successful calving. Getting cows to hit body condition score targets, especially for early calvers and younger animals, means scoring cows individually and then drying animals off early to give them more time to gain the weight.

Of course, the extra time’s great but there must be feed to get us to target.  Winter crops are looking good this season, but ensuring that planned diets deliver results means accurate yield estimates.  Forage supplements on hand should be tested for nutrients, allowing us to pick feeds either better suited as winter supplement or for feeding to springers to minimise metabolic disease in the spring.  Maize or whole crop silages can work well in the latter case, but even testing grass silage stacks can reveal marked differences in their milk fever risk.  Farm feeding practices might dictate adding macrominerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, from late summer to make sure there’s plenty of bone stores when we need them in the spring.  We’re often running over winter management plans, ensuring that contingency plans are in place for weather events, staff training needs are met and that treatment plans are in place for the following season.  All of this planning is now part of programmes such as Cooperative Difference, and working with your vet to tailor them to your farm needs keeps them relevant and valuable.

Fodder beet feeding crystallises many of these challenges.  While it’s a high yielding feed with excellent utilisation, it poses catastrophic health and welfare issues if not treated carefully. Team preparation, adequate resting areas, clear feeding and safety plans with adequate transition onto and off the crop, and measures to address well known nutrient shortfalls (especially in protein and phosphorus) are essential to avoiding disasters over the winter and in the spring.

Making sure cow immunity is ready for the challenge of early lactation means testing trace element levels, addressing any short falls, and getting vaccines on board at the right time to maximise protection.  This should always include Leptospiral vaccination to protect farm staff (and vets!), and, where appropriate, Clostridial, Salmonella and calf scours vaccination.

We need to end the lactation in a way that allows the udder to recover and prepare for next season.  Preserving antibiotics in humans and animals requires us to restrict their usage to infected animals, and so dry cow antibiotic therapy should target those cases- using one of the well validated tools to find them, be it bacterial culture, herd test data, or rapid mastitis testing (RMT).  The use of teat sealants for the uninfected majority reduces new infections and antibiotic usage next season, but their administration needs to be scrupulously clean- make sure everyone administering them is trained to the highest standards by the vet team.  And dry cow nutrition in the run up to dry off is important in preventing post dry off milk leakage and minimising failure of our protection measures.

by Alistair Kenyon

Dairy Team Leader

North Canterbury Vets, Culverden.