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Tuesday, 24 December 2019 08:55

$100k annual cost for dairy farmers

Written by  Staff Reporters
FE can cost dairy farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production. FE can cost dairy farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production.

Dairy facial eczema (FE) can cost farmers at least $100,000 each year in lost milk production, a recent study has found.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Farming Fund is supporting the Facial Eczema Action Group – made up of veterinarians, dairy farmers and rural professionals – to explore ways of raising awareness of FE so that more farmers take preventative action.

Many cows don’t show clinical signs of FE. As a result, farmers often don’t know why milk loss is happening and end up drying off their cows early.

“It’s hitting farmers hard in the pocket. They’re losing 0.14-0.35kg milk solids per cow per day,” said Emma Cuttance, a dairy veterinarian and head of Veterinary Enterprises Group (VetEnt) Research – which is leading the project. 

“We worked out that one of the herds in our study had lost $125,000 just in milk production.”

She says zinc is currently the main way of treating FE. “But many farmers don’t administer enough to control the toxin that causes FE.”

Trial work in 2014, examining zinc concentrations in the blood of 1200 cattle from over 100 farms in the North Island, showed that about 70% of cattle did not have enough zinc to protect against FE.

“Blood testing is the best way to determine how badly affected the cows are if they have FE. However, getting farmers to do blood tests can be tricky because of the cost and time involved,” Cuttance said.

The project team brought in AgResearch to examine the wellbeing of cows affected by FE to see if there are other ways of identifying symptoms.

Steve Penno, director of investment programmes at MPI, said its support of the project recognised that FE was an issue that needed to be addressed.

“Whichever way you look at it, it’s in farmers’ best interests to proactively manage this disease, by improving cattle health and wellbeing and the bottom line.”

He says to help prevent the disease, farmers need to monitor the spore count on their own farm.

They are advised to start a management programme when spore counts trend upwards to 30,000 spores/g and continue until spore counts are 10,000 spores/g or below for at least three weeks. 

Blood testing is advised to check the effectiveness of zinc administration.

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Designed to connect data from a range of on-farm equipment and suppliers into one management system, it creates a real-time decision-support platform, to make the farmer’s life easier, the herd healthier and the farm more profitable, says Lely.

Developed over a 24-month period, with over 100 test farmers in seven countries, working with 75 engineers, designers, farm management advisors, veterinarians and AI specialists, the new application will eventually replace the current Lely T4C management system. It uses smart algorithms and the cloud to deliver data that is processed into actionable information that is always accessible on any device in a user-friendly way.

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The migration is planned in a phased approach, from country to country, over the year 2021.

Also launched at the event, Lely Exos is an autonomous concept for harvesting and feeding fresh grass to the herd.

The company suggests that feeding fresh grass makes better use of available roughage, suggesting “fresh” has between 10 and 20% more nutritional value than grass silage, as there are minimal losses typically seen during mowing, tedding, raking, harvesting and feeding.

Lely suggests that feeding fresh grass over an extended season reduces the amount of silage that has to be conserved, reduces the need for concentrates and bought-in feed and increase the margin made on each litre of milk produced.

Based around an all-electric vehicle that mows and feeds, Exos is light weight and uses soil friendly technology, that can be exploited throughout the growing season. Design to work 24/7 as feed requirements change, the system places no constraints on labour or time, while it is also designed to work in tandem with the Lely Vector automatic feeding systems.

In operation, Exos also collects field data as it goes about its job, giving framers live data on grass supply and lending itself to a further concept of delivering a targeted liquid fertiliser as it passes over a harvested area.

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