22 November 1996

HOW TOP ITALIAN HERD MILKS & STAYS HEALTHY

Italian milk producers feed to maximise the potential of high genetic merit cows, but have to remain within quota. Jessica Buss reports

MONTHLY milk urea tests as part of the ration check ensure the health status and performance of one Italian 11,500-litre herd.

Milk producer Silvio Marrelli believes milk urea testing is an important health indicator for cows that are housed all year round – its flies that prevent cows being turned out in summer.

His 130-cow herd is fed a maize silage and lucerne-based diet to average 11,500kg in 305 days at 3.3% fat and 3.3% protein.

Good management allows him to make the most of the animals genetic potential, he claims.

"The cow has the potential to milk – she is not forced to do it," he says. "If she has the potential to give 11,500kg why should she only produce 10,000kg?"

The two aspects that he considers most important for high yields are feeding and cowshed management.

"If you expect cows to produce you must be able to grow good crops. The market is not able to guarantee constant feed quality for purchased feed.

"Good quality feed, however, will convert into milk without upsetting cow health."

On his 85ha (210-acre) Senna Farm at Lodi, Milan, he grows 20ha (50 acres) of lucerne, 5ha (12 acres) of grass for hay and 60ha (150 acres) of maize.

The feed consultant who visits once a month gives Mr Marelli help and advice. But he says that it is he that must react to the cows because he is there every day.

"I dont worry about milk fat decreasing, but I am worried if the cell count increases," he says. "And, if milk urea is high or low there will be health problems within the next two months.

"The ration is only changed when there are difficulties or when new stocks of forage are started." Changed too often it would be difficult to identify the ration that caused problems later.

Milking cows are fed a single ration, except a group of 20 fresh calvers, and the late lactation cows which are fed less of milkers ration with an extra 3kg of long grass hay.

Mr Marelli believes feed analysis is crucial. Products that are stable such as dry hay are analysed every two or three months, other products are sampled every 15 days when he considers it necessary.

Cows must eat 13 or 14 times a day if they are producing plenty of milk, he claims. And its important to let cows rest and respect their daily schedule.

He adds that cow owners must adhere to health and management tasks such as heat detection and vet treatments.

His two herdsmen milk and take responsibility for the cows but they report to him on cow health matters as he is on the farm all day.

Cows must also be provided with a hygienic environment in the cubicles, he says. They must be bedded on products such as straw that keep bacterial counts low and are comfortable. To help keep the rolling somatic cell count at 130,000/ml and the total bacterial count below 25, the 20:20 herringbone milking parlour is tested every three months, he claims.

Although Mr Marelli likes to show his animals, the main objective of breeding is milk production.

"I select animals for functional type and low health problems and use bulls that do not penalise milk production. I never use a type only bull. It must have a balance of type and production."

Using 60% Italian sires for the herd means that he can see bull daughters before selecting sires. Chosen bulls are used widely across the herd to get as many daughters as possible.

Current sires include Raven, Magnitude, Mascot and Patron.

Silvio Marrelli uses milk urea tests to monitor health of his 11,500kg herd.


MANAGING FOR 11,500kg


&#8226 Monitor milk urea and cell counts.

&#8226 Frequent ration checks and feed analysis.

&#8226 Cubicle and parlour hygiene.


MIXED RATION (kg)


&#8226 Lucerne hay 2

&#8226 Lucerne silage 6

&#8226 Maize silage 20

&#8226 Maize meal 5

&#8226 Barley meal 1.5

&#8226 Molasses (purchased) 1.5

&#8226 35% crude protein purchased concentrate 8

&#8226 Mineral and vitamins