Beware too many cows for the housing

5 November 1999

Beware too many cows for the housing

THE national trend for keeping more cows to increase herd output could increase risks of mastitis spread and poor milk quality this winter.

Axient information manager, Tim Harper, says its Milkminder figures show that on average producers have kept almost 10 more cows in the summer period. That is once last years figures are corrected for herds leaving the industry this summer, he adds. Its average costed herd size is now 125 cows.

"But there are risks associated with keeping too many cows for the housing facilities available, particularly the increased potential for mastitis." Cell counts and Bactoscan results may also be at risk. It is unlikely there has been much investment to increase housing facilities, he adds.

Cell counts may already be starting to suffer because of increases in herd size, according to NMR data.

Encouraging trends in cell counts, seen over the past four years, appear to be taking a turn for the worse, says NMRs head of agribusiness, Julian Bryan.

Cell count data, recorded each month from over 1m of the countrys cows, shows a steady improvement in cell counts between 1996 and 1999. Month-on-month counts have dropped as udder hygiene has improved and the worst offenders from herds are removed.

But cell counts between July and October this year have increased compared with equivalent months last year.

The most marked rise is this September where counts were 16,000 higher than September 1998, at 187,000 and 171,000, respectively. In October 1998 cell counts averaged 166,000 and 174,000 in October this year.

"Possible explanations for this increase are economic pressures forcing producers to reduce inputs, including udder health products and treatments," he says. "But we have also picked up an increase in herd size of 10 cows a herd over the past 12 months. We know from our records that, on average, larger herds have higher cell counts. The average for a 51 to 100-cow herd is 173,000, but in a 251 to 350-cow herd it is 188,000.

"Because there has been plenty of grass this summer and autumn on many farms, and cull cow prices are low, we suspect some producers are holding on to older cows which may otherwise have been sold. This accounts, in part, for the significant increase in herd size. But this could also be having a major impact on average herd cell counts and jeopardising milk price premiums, warns Mr Bryan. &#42

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