With many predicting a hot summer, let's consider how to keep our herds happy, healthy and productive.
We have had a couple of consecutive hot, dry summers in the south and, while predictions suggest we may have some reprieve from dry spells this season, it is worthwhile preparing for low rainfall.
Early planning for the summer season is key to maintaining herd health and profitability and for managing in case of challenging conditions.
As they say: ‘proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance’.
It’s good to assess where you stand with feed supply and to forecast how much you think you’ll need, particularly if things dry up and fresh feed runs low.
There are several ways to manage low availability by reducing pressure on feed, including:
Culling low-value stock early;
Booking pregnancy scanning early (we can age scan from 42 days) to identify empty cows and make culling decisions;
Consider drying-off some stock early;
Consider once-a-day/16-hour milking to reduce pressure on stock, staff and feed.
Regular Body Condition Scoring (BCS) to assess your stock at different points of the year is also important and will help influence decisions about stock and feed.
Good pasture management is the other vital component of managing hot, dry spells. Some strategies to mitigate the impact of a dry period include:
Increasing to a 30ish-day rotation over summer - slowly transitioning during late spring/early summer to a longer rotation will help achieve optimum grass growth and utilisation over summer;
Avoid overgrazing and remain consistent with pasture residuals;
Consider nitrogen fertilisation in early summer - this can help drive growth of new ryegrass;
Consider implementing summer crops;
Consider buying in feed supplements early.
Another thing to be aware of during summer in high temperatures is heat stress.
Heat stress negatively impacts a cow's health and performance. It’s a good idea to have strategies in place to prevent heat stress on those hot days where temperatures start exceeding 25℃. Some easy and effective methods for preventing heat stress include:
Provision of shade - using paddocks with shade, or implementing shade onto the yard;
Always ensuring your cows have plenty of access to clean water;
Implementing simple sprinkler systems on the yard to cool cows as they stand;
Using paddocks close to the dairy shed to reduce walking distance.
As everyone knows, every farm is different, so how you manage in the event of a hot, dry summer will differ. However, considering (and possibly implementing) some of these strategies sooner rather than later will help you manage the impacts of another potentially challenging season.