Building a robust and effective dairy enterprise

Preparation is key. In the dairy industry, producers are faced with different challenges throughout the year, and each challenge may offer new opportunities for progress. Building a robust and effective dairy enterprise often requires that we fine-tune the big milk-producing machine that is a dairy farm to remain profitable in a challenging world. In a volatile market where feed costs fluctuate and extreme weather patterns are the norm, we need to ensure that the foundation for our ‘milking machine’ is firm enough to take on any challenge.

At the heart of the enterprise

The humble dairy cow is at the centre of this milking enterprise and has the potential to buffer challenges to the business and ensure its success, even in the most challenging circumstances. All the farmer needs to do is to set her up for success. A closer look at the cow reveals that the immune system has the biggest impact on health and production. Although well known for the role it plays in maintaining efficiency and profitability in cows, the power of an effective immune system is still underestimated.

In the immune system as a whole, white blood cells and antibodies are not the only working components. Behind the scenes, thousands of different enzymes and nutrients work together synergistically to create a well-oiled machine. Improving efficiency and synergy of the immune system with the physiological systems in the cow’s body could be the key to facing the next challenge unscathed. The building blocks needed for an efficient and profitable cow are a well-balanced diet, cow comfort, and a combination of vitamins and functional trace minerals.

Trace mineral building blocks can set the cow up to cope with stressors much more effectively, while minimising the impact on production. The key aspects of trace minerals are briefly summarised in Figure 1. But are these really helpful in facing the challenges encountered on a dairy enterprise?

Figure 1 Trace mineral key roles and the effect of a deficiency (as adapted from Palomares, n.d.)

The benefits of a strong foundation

Efficiency is key and if we can manage to do more with less, we set ourselves up to conquer the challenges we may face. An aspect of trace mineral supplementation that has received little attention but may hold huge benefits for producers is the supplementation of functional mineral sources and the effect on feed efficiency of the cow.

Research by Nayeri et al. (2014) showed that supplementing a complexed form of zinc to dairy cows improved their feed efficiency. Improved feed efficiency is achieved by reducing dry matter intake while improving or maintaining milk production. This could serve to buffer rising feed costs by ensuring more efficient feed utilisation by the herd.

Another important aspect of the ‘milking machine’ is reproduction. The use of reproductive technology and artificial insemination has brought about huge advancements in improving reproduction figures on-farm. But are you failing at the point of insemination or are your cows strong finishers in the proverbial fertility race? Along with improved feed efficiency, reduced services per conception were also observed in the study by Nayeri et al. (2014).

These two performance results show the value of working off an effective system with strong immunity.
Additional benefits that can be derived from applying a functional trace mineral programme are improved hoof health, including a reduction in infectious hoof lesions. An effective immune system is also often indicated by a low somatic cell count score, as high counts are often the first indicators of inflammation in the cow. Improved hoof and udder health reduce the energy-related costs of inflammation and keep associated treatment costs low. Reduced treatment and energy wastage in the cow again free up energy and capital that could be better spent elsewhere. The only downside to looking after your cows’ trace mineral requirements is that you need to be intentional with the application of supplements. Refer to my previous article on strategic decisions for better returns in the December 2020 issue of The Dairy Mail to reduce your risk when applying trace mineral supplementation.

Low risk coupled with a robust and resilient “milking machine” will equip you to take on any challenge you may face on the dairy farm!

Download the full article in PDF format here, as published in the March 2022 issue of The Dairy Mail.

Technical adviser: Ruminants

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