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  • Writer's picturePat Poletti

Dairy Production 2016

What costs are you cutting this year? Dry cow? Rota virus vaccine? CIDRs? In lieu of these interventions what management changes are being made?

The high pay-out did assist in alleviating (perhaps) the clinical manifestation of production diseases by throwing money at the problem, e.g. whole herd dry cow. But if whole herd dry cow works why do you need it every year?

Similarly, hormone interventions don’t fix fertility issues and treating every cow with a bag of stuff at calving doesn’t reduce milk fever pressures on herds. “For every complex problem” wrote the American journalist HL Mencken, “there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong”. Which neatly sums up the over-played and not altogether inexpensive pharmaceutical solutions that are on offer to the farmer.

To survive into the future, we have to take into account the implications of the current and forecast pay-outs, the increasing assurance requirements for food safety, residue control and animal welfare. Also to be factored in are the inevitable limitations on antibiotic use in production animals due to concerns of antibiotic resistance in humans. Clearly, short term band aids are starting to look unsustainable.

Quick fixes rarely solve the underlying problem. As an example, solving infertility issues requires, among other things, assessment of ketosis control, metabolic disease control and trace element sufficiency. Similarly, mastitis investigation requires assessment of the same issues as well as shed set-up and milking management.

Yes, it takes a bit of effort and the findings may challenge current beliefs and practices. However, the opportunities created for production efficiency right across the farming system are enormous. Yes, pharmaceuticals are handy tools. Generally easy to use, deliver a useful short term result and a persuasive cost benefit analysis can be made. But beware the easy solution. As Malcolm Forbes (of Forbes Magazine fame) wrote “It’s easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem”.

If the low pay-out becomes a driver to rationalise pharmaceutical and fertiliser use, and to better understand and control production diseases at a fundamental management level then the pain will not be in vain. The industry will emerge ahead of the game - more profitable, more effective at meeting and exceeding customer demands for food safety and welfare, more adept at environmental nutrient management and a lot less stress for cow and farmer alike.


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