Testimonial – Gareth Hale, Timaru
The prospect of facing at least 20 down cows every day over calving is the stuff of nightmares for most dairy farmers. But for Gareth Hales and his team this was often the reality. With was the stressful, time consuming and expensive issue of getting those cows back on their feet, and into the herd again.
The Hale group owns three big dairy units, two near Timaru milking a total of 1900 cows, and a third near Mayfield milking 800.
At a stocking rate of 3-3.5 cows a hectare the farms are not as intensive as some operations, and Gareth has been focusing on growing per cow performance over recent years.
But as production surged over the 400kgMS-plus mark he found his herd’s metabolic problems were growing at the same time.
“It was the sort of thing you probably would not notice at a lower per head production rate of say 250-330kg MS, but once you start pushing that increased production demand, the problems did start to show, particularly the down cow problem,” he says.
The herds had been on the typical “high octane” ryegrass-clover feed irrigated Canterbury land can grow so well, but the resulting excess protein levels in their diet was taking its toll.
Lameness had also become more common, particularly pre-Christmas when fibre levels were at their lowest and the herd was hitting its straps on dry matter intake.
To try and address magnesium levels over spring-time Gareth had been applying the mineral using all the usual practices of pasture dusting and Dos-a-Tron administration.
“We had used those methods by the book, but they simply were not able to get on top of the deficiencies, and the problems were getting worse every year,” he says.
On advice from Sollus, Gareth decided to try adding Tranzsol to the herds’ pre-calving diet.
The logic behind Tranzsol made sense to him, with its antioxidants to develop cow immunity pre-calving to reduce mastitis and retained placenta problems, while the addition of calcium and magnesium chloride would ensure she did not get milk fever.
The herd diet for transitioning to lactation was also adjusted, with cows 10 days from calving only getting half their feed intake as grass, with the rest composed of straw and maize silage.
The dietary change plus Tranzsol made a big difference to herd health post-calving.
“Our down cow numbers have dropped well away, to only about one a day across all herds now, it’s been a big positive shift for us,” says Gareth.
Post-calving he added Lactisol which is administered through the herds’ supplements for the entire lactation. Its ability to maintain antioxidant levels, provide magnesium along with zinc and vitamin D, in addition to the added lime flour calcium has meant Gareth can now confidently push the herd towards 550kg milk solids a cow, without the risk they collapse under milk fever and deficiency stresses.
Gareth has also seen the problems with lameness falling away.
“Our lameness problems would have fallen by over two thirds, and with that a lot of time has been saved too.”
“Pushing for higher performance something was going to give, and we were having to use a vet as the ambulance. Our vet bill would have halved in the past few years.
“Yes, we are spending money on Tranzsol and Lactisol, but adding them means we don’t have a full time staff member dusting paddocks, and another full time staff member picking up the dry cows all day every day. We can focus on keeping the herd fed, healthy and producing well.”
Meantime he feels far more confident about the sustainability of his herds’ longer term high performing ability.
“Over the last four years we have constantly had good production, and sit around 520-540kgMS, compared to 480-500kgMS before we started this programme.”
Longer term Gareth can’t see too many major changes needed in his high performing herds, now the basics of transitional and lactation feeding are sorted. “It has made life a lot easier that it was before and if anything we will just be tinkering around the edges from here on in.”