Steps are being taken to reduce the risk of infectious diseases entering James King’s farm near Ballymena, Co Antrim.

James runs an open herd, where only beef sires are used on cows and all replacements for the milking herd are bought in. He developed a new animal health plan in consultation with his local vet John Alexander during the autumn.

One of the first outcomes of this exercise was to vaccinate all cows for BVD and IBR. This was completed in October and a booster for BVD will be given every 12 months. Another IBR vaccine is due to be administered six months later in April 2021.

Other infectious diseases will be monitored closely through regular testing and investigation of health issues, abortions, and mortalities. Salmonella levels in milk will be checked through bulk milk tank sampling and the need for a vaccine to be included in the health plan will be discussed during the next review.

Milk recording samples will be tested for Johnes disease and any cows that test positive will not be selected for breeding and will be removed from the herd. Milk samples will also be used to monitor for Neospora, a parasite that causes abortion in cattle, as there had been some issues with this several years ago.

Another key outcome of the animal health plan update was to keep better records of all health issues on the farm, such as lameness and mastitis. This will allow accurate records of the main health problems to be assessed during annual reviews of the plan.

There have been no cases of clinical mastitis on the King farm in recent months and somatic cell counts remain at a low level, with average cell count at the last milk recording reported at 89,000 cells/ml.

James is putting this down to extra lime and sawdust being applied to cubicles in the main cow shed and milk liners were also recently changed in the parlour. Local vet John Alexander has recommended that samples are taken from any infected quarters in the future to establish what pathogens are present and to allow a tailored approach to management.


The floor of the cubicle shed and collecting yard has been re-grooved in recent weeks, following the recommendation being made in the animal health plan. There were some issues last winter with cows slipping and James notes that cows are much more confident on their feet since the work was completed.

James will also continue to only buy replacements from herds with a high health status and aims to buy from as few different herds as possible. New arrivals will be quarantined for 28 days and will be put on the vaccination programme and dosed for fluke and worms.

The health plan contains other useful steps that are applicable to most farms, such as double fencing at field boundaries to limit contact with neighbouring herds.

The document also contains a calendar summary for each animal health measure, which should make it easier to follow the plan on a monthly basis.

Assessing winter feed plans

Fodder stocks were re-assessed on James King’s farm last week. In total, there is 1,340t of fresh weight silage available, which should be adequate for the winter period.

Dairylink adviser Aidan Cushnahan worked on the assumption that a lactating cow will consume 1.4t of silage per month and a dry cow will use 1.0t every month.

The current silage stocks on James’s farm are enough for 170 milking cows and 30 dry cows over five and a half months.

The milking herd is split into two feeding groups according to their stage of lactation and level of production.

Cows in the high-yielding group are getting a total mixed ration made up of 33kg of silage, 0.5kg of hay, 5kg of a 18% crude protein blend, 1kg of straw nuts and 1kg of sugar beet pulp.

This diet is designed to support maintenance plus 20l for cows, and maintenance plus 17l for first lactation heifers. In-parlour feeders are used to top up cows and heifers that are yielding above these baselines.

The low-yielding group are offered ad-lib grass silage, which should support maintenance plus 10l for cows, and maintenance plus 7l for heifers. Again, animals in this group are fed to yield in the parlour.

The latest milk recording showed that cows in the early lactation group had averaged 33.7l, while the late lactation group averaged 16.4l.

Aidan reports that the herd appears to be in satisfactory condition, with body condition scores typically around 2.75 to 3.0.

James is continuing to monitor performance and will make further changes to the diet if required.

Calving continues and breeding commences

Cows are continuing to calve down on the King farm, with 85 early lactation cows going through the parlour at present. The first run of calves this autumn was mainly Belgian Blue sired, but Aberdeen Angus cross calves have been arriving more recently.

Breeding on the farm commenced last Monday (30 November 2020). Heat detection is carried out through a combination of visual observation and tail chalking.

All eligible cows are initially chalked red. Cows that have been inseminated and are not in calf will be coloured orange and blue chalk will be used to identify cows that have been inseminated and become pregnant.

Weekly round-up

  • Autumn-born calves are being weaned on Dairylink Ireland farms.
  • Heat detection and breeding continues in autumn-calving herds.
  • Several Dairylink farmers are reviewing animal health plans with their vets.
  • A blank health plan template is available at