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Herd Health Focus
are there lessons to learn from the pig and
poultry sectors?
Increased farm populations of cattle and particularly cows has come into to focus during
the past few months with the hot summer and the almost total collapse in grass growth.
What can we learn from the pig and poultry industries, asks Pat Kirwan MVB Cert PM.
Intensification has brought its difficulties, some that could
have been foreseen and others which have blind-sided
the dairy industry. Could some of the problems that have
been encountered been better anticipated and could
lessons be learned from the pig and poultry industries
where intensification is the norm?
The pig and poultry industries have progressively become
more intensive over the past 20 years. "The big have got
bigger and the small have got out!" The first major point
to make about intensive livestock production is that
all inputs come through the farm gate. Hence, all feed
is purchased as the norm and not as a reaction to the
absence of the grass growth. Each pig or chicken is given
a daily allowance and this is calculable in advance of each
day or week or month.
Dairy farmers have improved significantly on their daily
measurements of grass growth and availability over the
past few years but the fodder crisis of 2018, hot on the
heels of the extended winter of 2017 and the absence of a
spring in 2018 has stretched their ability to forecast grass
growth and plan daily usage and surplus conservation
strategies. There just wasn't any grass remaining!
Feed solutions
Dairy farmers, especially those that have expanded, need
to look outside the farm gate for feed solutions. Whole
crop wheat and barley was one such solution used by
some dairy farmers to bridge the fodder gap. There is a
sort of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" about the use of arable
silage crops to address fodder shortages as the feed
merchant may otherwise have been supplied with, and
this could come at a significant cost through increases in
the cost of wheat and barley inputs into commercial beef
and dairy rations.
Dairy farmers have also purchased much of the straw
from their tillage neighbours this year as it has both a feed
value and is an essential fibre source, particularly when
mixing in feed wagons occurs on dairy farms.
Some farms are also looking at catch crops such as
rapeseed, turnips, suedes and others roots, sown now
in harvested land to bridge the fodder deficit in the early
months of 2019.
Zero-grazing as a strategy will also be used in the late
growing season this year to try to maximise the value
of late grass growth and reduce the losses in grass
associated with both contamination and poaching. All
these strategies should be encourage at this stage of the
growing season in an attempt to address some of the
remaining fodder imbalance.
Alternative feeds, straights and by-products might also
be considered as an alternate feed source for cows in
the coming winter and spring. Alfalfa was imported in
some areas in the winter of 2017/18 as a reaction to poor
weather and a long winter. Perhaps a proactive look at
alfalfa imports could be done at this stage of the season
and advance orders placed for products like this or maize
could be made at this stage
Many are loathe to discuss the possibility of culling as
a strategy that can be used now to address some of
the shortcomings in the fodder situation. However, this
strategy has long been used in the pig and poultry industry
in times of surplus or in times of poor returns. The
current fodder crisis could be deemed sufficiently serious
to consider the possibility of a cull or an accelerated
retirement of dairy cows that are approaching the end of
their productive lives.
Sows are rarely retained on pig breeding units beyond
sixth parity. By this stage they have produced upwards of
100 piglets and may have weaned up to 90 piglets in their
short lives. However, continuous production at these high
levels after 6th parity is unsustainable. Sows will eventually
disappoint in terms of numbers born or numbers born
dead or quality of piglet or quality of milk.
Conception rates of 95 per cent are achievable in pig
production with farrowing rates thereafter of 90 per
cent+. The loss between conception and farrowing is
made up of natural pregnancy losses plus a degree of
culling of pregnant sows. A pig unit has a farrowing target
per week. If he exceeds this target (based on the number
of available farrowing spaces) then the system comes
under pressure. Hence, he has free-rein to address surplus
pregnancies through premature culling of older sows,
those who have disappointed once, those who might be
lame, have poor body condition or are poor mothers.
Fodder crisis: