Preparing for winter

As the nights pull in and temperatures start to drop Mike Steele, Lely Atlantic vet and Head of Farm Management Support (FMS) advises farmers to take steps to prepare for winter.

Cow health

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There are certain cow and robot maintenance tasks which will pay dividends for the health and performance of the herd over the winter months, says Lely Atlantic’s Mike Steele.

“For any farms that are still grazing their cows, paddocks will be starting to get muddy during the autumn months, so environmental risks increase,” he explains. “We need to pay more attention to cleanliness so this is the time to trim and singe excess hair on the cows so that brushes on the Astronaut can be effective.”

Autumn also means that seasonal calving herds are likely to be seeing milk output dropping as they prepare for drying off. “Make sure you have enough space in your separation area because if it’s overcrowded it is more difficult to dry cows off cleanly.”

When preparing housing for the winter months access to drinking water must be a top consideration. “It’s particularly important that dry cows have plenty of water,” he says. “Access to water is one of the biggest restrictions on dry matter intakes. You can’t have just one tiny drinker in the corner and expect it to be enough just because they are not milking.

“There needs to be 10cm linear access per cow, but I hardly ever see that on farms and quite often there is just 5 or 8cm. It’s one of the biggest restrictions on cow diets, but so cheap to fix.”

Robot settings for seasonal herds will also need to be updated, he says. “Yields will be reducing and there will be fewer visits. Review your milk access tables and make sure they are set up appropriately. Your local Lely Center FMS team will be happy to help.”

Hoof health must be a top consideration in the winter too. Farms that have added the Lely Meteor to their Astronaut set up should ensure it is clean, he says. “It is so important to keep it clean so that it can do its job properly.”

Drying off is the ideal time to pay attention to hooves and he advises setting aside time to hoof trim every cow as she enters the dry period.

With regard to Astronaut tasks, now is a good time to check the brushes, adds Mike. “There is a metal bar beneath the brushes which flicks the bristles as they spin. It helps keep the brushes clean but if brushes have worn down it will not be effective so it’s really important to check whether those brushes need replacing.”

Check the levels of important consumable products including barrier wash, pre and post dip, too. “We see a massive correlation between alkaline wash running out and cell counts and mastitis cases increasing,” concludes Mike. “Farmers get used to their robots taking care of everything so it’s easy to forget to check those levels. Of course the Astronaut will alert you to low levels, but it’s better to be ahead of those things so that you avoid running out.”