Calving: Calving seems to be progressing well on most farms, with many herds approaching the 50% or more calved mark. In many cases, it’s from now on that problems tend to develop, both in cows and calves.
The time and stress involved in trying to keep on top of problems cannot be overstated. It’s also important to keep in mind that your farm is not the only farm having problems. Discuss problems with others and work through solutions. It’s easier said than done, but there are times when decent sleep needs to be prioritised above anything else. You cannot make good decisions when you are fatigued.
Keep on top of hygiene in the calving shed/pens. Topping up beds with straw is fine for a while, but all the bedding will need to be replaced every so often and the more often the better. Straw, dung, urine, bits of milk, calving fluids and afterbirth are a deadly combination for bacteria like e-coli and other harmful organisms.
Replacing the bedding reduces the risk. The correct procedure for disinfecting sheds is to wash, let dry and then disinfect, but that’s not always practical when the shed is in daily use.
Grazing: Grazing remains a challenge on most farms and the forecast for the week ahead isn’t very promising. However, there are good drying conditions in between showers, and soil and air temperatures are rising, which are all positive. At this stage, it’s looking like it’s going to be a very stop/start end to February when it comes to grazing, with lots of on/off grazing and grabbing a few hours here and there.
The key thing when cows are in and out of sheds is to make sure that when they do go out, that they have an appetite for grass. Some farmers will push silage away from milkers during the night, or only feed enough to last until 4am or 5am, while others will let cows stand in the yard without access to silage for a few hours after milking and before they go out to grass. Starting the evening milking in early afternoon means cows can go out to grass and be brought back inside at a reasonable time.
A useful tip is to alternate grazings between two paddocks or two sections of paddocks. This means wires can be set up for the next grazing during the daytime. For example, the morning break can be set up the afternoon before and vice versa. It means you are not moving wires in the dark or at milking times.
Bloat: I’m hearing of some issues with bloat in young calves. It tends to be an issue in calves fed milk replacer. It seems to be caused by gas-producing bacteria feeding on the carbohydrates in the calf’s abomasum.
The gas is trapped in the abomasum and so the calf gets bloated and can die if untreated. Feeding high rates of mixed milk replacer or mixed milk with a high rate of powder can cause bloat. These high feeding rates or high rates of powder slow down the passage of milk through the abomasum and give the bacteria more carbohydrates to feed on. The correct mixing rate is 12.5% milk replacer and no more than 2l or 2.5l of milk per calf per feed.