Starting spring with more confidence that milk fever was under control ensured Craig & Alice Knowles got some decent sleep during calving.
Craig milks 240 crossbred cows on his 107 Ha block in Inglewood, Taranaki. This is Craig’s fifth season on the current farm, after 5 years on a different farm with the same herd. Milk fever during calving has been an ongoing issue for the herd on both farms. They’ve had up to of 30 downer cows each season and the first year on the new farm saw 10 cows lost to milk fever.
“We tried all sorts of different people and different ideas and I guess they have all helped in a way… you think you have your ducks in a row and everything is fine and then it tips over”- Craig Knowles
Despite having tried different approaches over the years they had no success tackling milk fever until now. Along with an 80% reduction in downer cows this season, for the first time no cows were lost to milk fever - Those that did go down responded well to treatment.
Craig describes this success as“… a weight off your shoulders, not wondering what you are going to find in the morning when you get out of bed”.
So how have they achieved this?
With the help of Mineral Systems, they sampled pasture and feed to understand if this was contributing to milk fever. Although generally accepted risks to milk fever were absent, extended periods of negative calcium balance, a potential for ketosis and critically low iodine were all identified as contributing to milk fever in the herd.
Craig & Alice implemented the recommendations, including using more magnesium sulphate and a lot less magnesium oxide, in addition to calcium sulphate, which hadn’t been done before. Mineral Systems calculated a specific trace mineral blend to fill the gap between minerals supplied through the diet and herd demand.
Craig’s farm borders the Egmont National Park and is very wet over spring. A herd home provides 24hr shelter for the springers, which historically have been fed maize, grass silage, and palm kernel. This year Pat recommended letting them out to pasture a couple of times a week to improve the transition from the dry cow to the milking cow diet. Craig feels it’s important to keep the diet consistent, making sure feed supplements are measured properly so they are not getting too much one day and not enough the next.
In addition to reducing milk fever, Craig had experienced other benefits from this process. He says he now has a much better understanding of what he needs to feed to meet milking demand and has more confidence using his Farm Source data to make management decisions.
After such a successful calving the cows were better prepared for mating. Most of the later calvers were cycling within 4 weeks and 94% cycled pre-mating (in line with top industry performers @ >85%). With results like these it was not necessary to use CIDR’s, historically Craig has had to CIDR 9% of his herd. Craig and Alice have also seen a significant drop in SCC across the herd with levels tracking the lowest they’ve ever been.
SCC data shows a significant drop in this year’s counts. This is often in response to prescription trace mineral supplementation which ensures mineral sufficiency, resulting in a well-supported immune system .
Going forward Craig plans to:
Cut back on supplementary feed - he runs a System 3 farm with 12 % brought in feed,
Take a closer look at fertiliser choice to reduce the dietary risks from pasture, and
Re-assess the risk at critical times of the season (mating, mid-lactation and in preparation for calving) to make informed decisions around feeding and mineral supplementation.
Craig’s suggestions for other farmers wanting to break the milk fever cycle is to get away from using standardised mineral supplement rates. “Every feed is different; every paddock is different; and you need to work with what you’ve got on your farm”. Mineral and feed supplementation should be “tailored to your farm and what your feed is, rather than a one bag approach”, says Craig.
If you feel like the “one size fits all” approach isn’t working for your farm, give us a call. Now is the time to act and set yourself up for next season. Who knows, we might even have you sleeping through the night!