- Prepare now for your spring labour demands;
- Prioritise replacement heifer management;
- Dry-cow treatment must be done carefully – spread over several days;
- Aim for a closing cover of 600-700kgDM/ha;
- Feed to cow body condition score;
- Do your 2018 financial plan in November;
- Invest in variable/current costs to save on your 2017 tax bill.
by Matt Ryan
Labour: prepare now for spring
February and March are most demanding of labour on farms. Dairy farmers must now plan their spring 2018 labour requirements:
It won’t be possible to get ‘help’ in the spring because everyone will be booked up;
Decide how many hours per week will have to be worked. Work out how many hours you and your family can work. The difference has to be made up by employed staff;
You must be realistic, based on your experiences last spring;
You can’t save money on this as the consequences will be serious as too little manpower will result in you being over-worked and can also lead to calf injury, cow and calf deaths, injury to yourself, family or staff.
What type of staff?
Based on the workload for the year, decide whether you need a full-time person or not.
Advertise now for same;
The Farm Relief Service is the most obvious first port of call for temporary staff – its staff are a lot better than some farmers give them credit for;
Many farmers look to students to fill this spring demand labour gap – don’t over-expect;
There may be people in the locality who would be available to do a few hours work per day; for example, morning or evening milking, silage feeding, feeding calves;
Larger farmers, or a number of small farmers combined, could employ a ‘night-time herdsman’ who would oversee night calving and other related tasks for €70-€100 per night;
A contractor a few times per week could do all silage feeding, clean out straw sheds, etc.
Where to search?
Put an advert in the local press; in the local shops; in the local agricultural colleges; in and around universities and third-level colleges (there is only a limited amount of bar work available at weekends, whereas there are five milkings available over every weekend); on Facebook; talk to transition-year teachers about students who wish to have educational work experience (how many students will have seen a birth, realise that 85-90 per cent of a dairy farmer’s income comes from photosynthesis, and many, many more interesting facts that occur on farms).
'This guy is able to do nothing right' or 'he shows no initiative' or 'he would break everything', etc. are very frequent comments that farmers make about new staff. More often than not the problem is the employer;
The secret is to show them. New staff must be trained in the correct way of doing things, not always 'the way we do it around here';
New staff/students must be employed from early January, before the ‘heavy work’ begins when the farmer has no time to train anyone;
Discussion groups can play a part in this ‘hands-on training’ by having a few group sessions for employees in January.
When you have your staff lined up, develop a daily rota, planning in time off for both employees, family and yourself. Specific tasks must be allocated.
As an employer you must obey certain rules:
You must have an employment contract;
You must keep employment records to show you are in compliance with employment legislation;
You have a duty to ensure the employee’s safety, health and welfare at work;
You must comply with the 1979 Working Time Act – farmers are less than careful on this because they are so used to working long hours themselves;
Be aware of the Unfair Dismissals Acts and act to protect yourself;
Part-time employees are afforded the same protection as full-time employees;
Be aware of the Employment Equality Acts;
Minimum-notice periods for termination of employment apply to employees;
Have measures in place to ensure that employees are not subject to verbal or physical bullying or harassment from bosses, co-workers or customers. It is important that the farmer has a proper policy drawn up in relation to bullying in the workplace – an increasing area of concern on farms!
Take professional advice on this and related matters as any compensation can be expensive, traumatic and adversely affect your reputation as an employer. All of this is going to stretch you mentally, therefore, you must give it time and the rewards next spring will be reduced stress duing the busy season.
Prioritise replacements: heifer management
This and the next few months are really important in the lives of replacement heifers:
First things first; weigh your weanling heifers and your in-calf heifers now to see how they compare with the targets;
Then act on the results.
Yield of first calvers on many dairy farms is substantially below their genetic potential for milk yield, percentage fat and protein. And the cull rate of first calvers plus the calving interval to second calving is too high. Why?
On most farms, replacement heifers are below targets at most stages in their lifetime and consequently calve down too light.
In-calf heifers Weanlings
Holstein 460kg 230kg
British Friesian/Jersey-cross type 440kg 220kg
Table 1: Target weights for heifers.
Weanlings and in-calf heifers should weigh 40 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively, of the cows’ mature weight on November 1.
Deal with animals below this target:
For every 10kg weanlings are below weight they need 40-50kg meal (18 per cent) extra;
For every 10kg the in-calf heifer is under, she needs 60-70kg of extra meal;
In-calf heifers that are significantly above target and on good silage should be restricted to 7-8kg dry matter (DM), otherwise they will calve down too heavy and fat with the result that they will lose excess weight from calving to mating.
Use Table 2 and 3 to plan your meal-feeding strategy for your weanlings. Silage must be analysed so you know what you are doing.
Weanling Silage DMD
65 70 75
Gain on silage only (kg/day) 0.24 0.41 0.58
Light weanlings (meal to give 0.7kg/day) 2.0 1.4 0.5
Heavy weanlings (Meal required to give 0.5kg/day) 1.0 0.4 0
Table 2: Meal requirements for weanling heifers on silage.
Because of the increased value of all breeding stock, you should target all weanlings over 150kg now to make bulling weight on June 1 of next year.
Feed 2-3kg meals per head per day. Bring this information to the attention of contract calf rearers so that subsequent hassle doesn’t arise. We have had cases where the owner of animals has been very trusting of the rearer’s ability and hasn’t monitored animal target weights. There is only one loser in that situation!
Kg meal Protein in silage
8% 10% 12% 14%
2kg 20% 18% 16% 14%
3kg 18% 16% 14% 12%
Table 3: Protein levels (%) in meal required to supplement silage of different percentage of proteins.
At housing, in-calf heifers should be ‘mixed’ with the main herd so that they are ‘used’ to each other before calving – they will be heavier at bulling in May than if they were ‘mixed’ at calving time. This is a stress-related issue! If this isn’t possible ‘mix’ them with thin cows or second calvers.
Dry cow treatment: do it carefully!
The decision to dry off cows should be based on:
Expected calving dates – cows need up to 85 days, while first calvers need over 90 days of a dry period to heal damaged udder tissues;
Daily milk yield – dry off when milking less than 7L/cow/day;
Somatic cell count – dry off when cell count is greater than 300,000. Once the herd average is 10L/day examine all individual yields.
This is a very strenuous job and demands your full concentration to do it carefully and hygienically, therefore, you should only do 15-20 cows each session or each day.
On the day – choose a good time, say 11.00am, and adhere to the following routine:
Milk-out quarters fully;
Disinfect the teat end starting with the furthest-away teats, vigorously rubbing the teat end for 10-15 seconds with cotton wool soaked in methylated spirits;
Avoid contamination of nozzle;
Infuse the contents into the nearest quarters to avoid contamination and massage into the udder to disperse the antibiotic;
Infuse sealer if being used – do not massage udder after sealer is infused;
Teat spray (20ml) all quarters thoroughly;
Record cow number, date, and product detail (withdrawal time) for each cow;
As the cow is most at risk of infection during the first 21 days after treatment, it is essential to keep her in a clean environment or on bare pastures, keeping a vigilant eye on her for new infection, and keep dry cows separate from milkers, if possible. This advice is ignored by most farmers with serious consequences.
Teat sealers are non-antibiotic substances used to prevent new infection during the dry period. They are particularly useful for:
Cows with extended dry periods;
Where there have been new infections in the dry period during the previous years;
They may be better than an antibiotic product at preventing Escherichia coli at calving where the risk is high or where there is a history of the problem;
Cows where the cell count is less than 100,000 and no history of clinical mastitis – now used by an increasing number of farmers because sooner or later dry cow antibiotics may be prohibited.
Close at 600-700kg dry matter
Great autumn growth has left many farmers with the problem of having too much grass:
You must graze out paddocks pretty well and leave no covers greater than 1,100kgDM/ha.
Follow the rules – they are no different this year from any other year:
Each day’s delay in closing after November 1 will result in there being 13kg DM per hectare less grass on the paddock in March next year;
Grass yield next spring will be increased by 0.6kg DM per hectare for every 1kg DM per hectare left on the paddocks in early November;
Donal Patton in Ballyhaise is targeting 70 per cent of the last rotation to be completed by the first week of November. If not, this will depress spring grass availability. Therefore, if you are not now on that target take all steps to graze out a big percentage over the next few days, even let out dry cows. This is fundamental advice that must be adhered to.
You should now be grazing silage fields and going into the last five to eight grazing paddocks from November 8-20:
These last paddocks will not be grazed until March 25-April 10, 2018, so they should have plenty of grass by then;
All animals must be housed when the average farm cover is at 600-700kg DM per hectare, no matter what date that occurs in November;
No matter where the cows are or how much is on the next paddock, you must obey this rule;
Otherwise, you will not have enough grass for early let-out next year.
On-off grazing is the rule of grazing in November:
You must never, ever do anything to cause poaching damage;
Only graze cows for three hours/day and then bring them in.
Feed to body condition score
A few principles are important to know:
Cows will not put on weight for the first 10 days after drying off or for the last 30 days before calving;
Generally, a dry cow only gains ½ body condition score (BCS; 20-25kg) in 60 days, unless the forage is very good;
Feed management depends on the condition of your cows and the quality of your silage (get it analysed), therefore, BCS your herd at drying off, and feed according to both (see Table 3).
Divide up your cows into three groups, based on BCS:
Group 1: BCS 2.75-3.25 – most of the herd will be in this group and will need no special attention with silage 68 per cent DMD or better.
Group 2: BCS 2.75 or less – for sure these cows need meal, the amount depends on the quality of silage (see Table 3) and, if calving in February, must be dried off in early November. A cow that is 2.75 BCS now and due to calve in early February in a BCS of 3.25, and being fed 68 per cent DMD silage, has 84 days to calving, of which there are 40 days where no BCS is added. Therefore, she only has 44 ‘effective’ days for meal feeding and she needs to put on an extra 0.5 BCS or approximately 25-30kg of weight. This will require 130kg of meal or 3kg/cow/day for the 44 days.
Group 3: BCS 3.25+ cows – as these cows will be very fat calving down, they are likely to milk poorly and not go in calf next year.
These cows must be restricted to 5-7kg DM per day of silage with straw. That means only giving them 25-30kg of fresh (20 per cent DM) silage per cow per day plus 4-5kg fresh straw.
Silage DMD BCS at drying-off
< 2.5 2.5 2.75 > 3.0
> 72 Sil + 1kg Sil ad-lib Sil Restr Restr
68-72 Sil + 2kg Sil + 1kg Sil ad-lib Restr
64-68 Sil + 3kg Sil + 2kg Sil + 1kg Ad-lib
60-64 Sil + 4kg Sil + 3kg Sil + 2kg Sil + 1kg
Sil = Silage Restr = Restrict
Table 3: Recommendations for dry cow feeding (10-12 weeks dry period).
If separate grouping is an issue, you must invest a small amount of money in being able to divide cows – generally, gates and access to feed face is all that is required.
It is most important that:
Each cow has a cubicle, that is, 50 cows need 50-55 cubicles;
Each cow has 2ft of head space if being fed meals;
Each cow has 0.75 to 1ft silage feeding space;
Cubicle and yard surfaces are in good repair, kept clean every day;
Access to feeding area is adequate, and not restricted, with an access passage, 6ft wide, from cubicles to silage area every five to six cubicles;
Cows have adequate ventilation, which is enough inlet and outlet area, with no draughts;
You should walk carefully through your cows daily, not looking over the rail, to ensure none are sick, lame, stressed, and that they are free of mastitis, and putting on body condition.
Address health issues
Consult your vet and/or dose at housing, being aware of using the correct drug, the required quantity per weight of animal and milk and meat withdrawal times:
Confirm the presence of liver or rumen fluke by dung analysis;
Weanlings (all) must be dosed for stomach worms (type 11), hoose, liver fluke and treated for lice. Cows must be treated for stomach/liver fluke and lice, being aware of withdrawal times for milk and meat. In-calf heifers should be managed as per the cows and there may be a need to dose for worms (have it confirmed).
Lameness is always a problem, resulting in severe condition loss:
Use the Farm Relief Service to examine, and act on its advice (money well spent);
Footbath cows on three consecutive days every month during winter;
Use bluestone at 4-5kg in 100L water;
Dung must not be allowed build up in yards.
Financial plan for 2018 now
Now is the time to do a financial plan for 2018. To do it you must have the 2017 Profit Monitor done now. Very little farm income or spending will take place during the remainder of the year:
I am tired of hearing farmers complain about banks not lending them money. Well, would you give a friend a loan without knowing you had some chance of being repaid? No. The banks use profit monitor data to be sure that you can deliver. They need evidence, not a pious promise. So make life easy for yourself; complete your profit monitor now;
Be accurate – there is some evidence from discussion groups that some farmers consider not putting in all costs. You are only ‘fooling’ yourself and discrediting your reputation in the eyes of your lending agency. Therefore, carefully assemble the information.
If you have never done a financial plan before, get help from your accountant or adviser. This is not ‘rocket science’. Most spending can be based on 2017 spending, but you must try to trim costs where they are high relative to other members in your discussion group.
Sales can be similarly adjusted on 2017 receipts – more cows, or if the herd gets older, will deliver more milk sales. It would probably be best to plan for a 2018 milk price of 2-3c/L less than 2017 – based on expert speculation and also being ‘safe’ for yourself.
Because of the precarious nature of farming, financial planning must now be an active part of our lives.
Bits and pieces
Tax: 2017 looks like a big tax year for dairy farmers. Can you make any savings now? See Table 4 as to the most efficient way to reduce your tax bill for 2017.
On current variable costs High rate of tax Low rate of tax
Before income averaging €520 €310
After income averaging €173 €103
Invested in capital expenses €65 €39
Table 4: For every €1k spent; the above tax savings accrue to you.
Spend on productive items, such as fertilisers, particularly phosphorus, potash and lime; forward buy meal; spring vaccinations, artificial insemination (AI) straws (if you have chosen your AI bulls); next season's mastitis tubes; all detergents for next year, make sure labour and contractor bills are paid for all of 2017; any machinery and general repairs should be done now; small investments in roadways, water and fencing could pass as maintenance; etc.
You will note from Table 4 how little savings are made from capital investments.
Accountants tell us that stock-relief’s benefit is over-stated, so assess your tax bill; make a plan; do some strategic spending; and enjoy the savings – feeding more than 2-3kg meal at present milk yields is very marginal even with high milk price.
“Nothing creates more self-respect among a team than being included in the process of making decisions,” Judith Bardwick