Last year, a farmer asked me if I would help his mate up the road. His friend had started with 500 cows to calve, and with peak milking soon to begin, he now had a little over 460 with which to complete the season. 22 cows had died from metabolic problems, 63 had clinical milk fever, and some had aborted. He was losing milking profit and spending more on medical bills.
Before I talk about cause of his problem, I’d like to talk about the farmer’s PROFIT WINDOW
September to December is the period where milk production is at its maximum. It’s when most of the money is made. Because of this, farmers should be gearing up to take maximum advantage of it.
Ideally, in that profit window, a farmer wants each of his cows to be producing 2.2kgms/day from September to December. But getting an animal to hit the magical 2.2kgms/day depends entirely on the condition they arrive in at the time of milking.
That means preparing cows to be in peak health at the start, so that they can maintain good condition throughout the calving, milking and mating periods.
Preconditioning is the transitioning period of four weeks prior to calving. The goal is to bring animals up to a 5.0 level of conditioning and this is achieved through a careful combination of diet, trace elements, and supplements.
Will a farmer need to spend money to get animals up to a 5.0 condition? Yes, but spending here will be rewarded in two ways: 1. With increased milk production. 2.With reduced health problems and naturally better mating results.
Think of pre-conditioning as an investment: you spend money to make more money.
If a cow comes into calving with an average-low condition level, she will calve in a tired state. This state will drop further as she expends energy and resources to cope with calving. In her tired state, she may have difficulty pushing out her calf due to low muscle strength.
With her immunity levels compromised, she is more susceptible to metabolic sicknesses.
But even if the cow avoids illness, her reduced conditioning means she has less energy to give to milk production. The farmer may even have to milk her less to avoid making her weaker.
In the case of my farmer, that scenario was true of all 500 cows.
None had a hope of reaching 2.2kgms/day
If a cow comes into calving with an elevated level of conditioning (5.0), she will be able to calve with relative ease. With strong muscles and high energy levels, she can push out the calf without comprimising her own health.
That means she can immediately produce 2.2kgms/day straight after calving. Being healthy, the cow also possesses a strong appetite. Her desire to continually feed enables her to maintain good conditioning throughout the Profit Window and beyond.
And she is far less susceptible to sickness.
So, what was the problem with our farmer?
When the Forward Farming team was called in to help, we went through the key areas, looking for causes for the herd’s poor health. The Management Plan was sound. The Feed Balance was good.
The problem was in the feed quality, or more precisely, the soil from where the feed came.
Our soil test revealed several key problems that accounted for the poor animal health:
N levels were far too high. One effect would have been the suppression of Ca in the soil which had left Magnesium too high and out of balance with Ca.
Sodium was also too high in relation to K.
If I had seen these soil readings without first knowing the herd’s condition, I would have deduced that their health was compromised. This soil/feed nutritional imbalance was only ever going to hurt these cows!
If you feel you are interested in unlocking more of your farms potential and maybe an answer to your frustrations and questions we can help with the big picture.