The answer is HAY, challenges with nitrogen surplus and E. coli mastitis (who knew that was a thing?!) – Lisa Groen

Calving is definitely NOT the busiest time of the year, it’s more the last 20 cows still left to calve who still need dusting and 100% of your attention, that annoying colostrum and penicillin mob you still have to bring to the shed, setting up fences all over the farm, managing pasture, feeding calves outside, getting ready for mating and for some people getting crops ready.

I will put my hand up and say I was at breaking point. Mentally, I just couldn’t switch off from farming, which is a real struggle when you pride yourself on attention to detail. Being a high input, high output system 5 farm everything you do is crucial. Ever-changing growth rates and trying to pick the right paddocks for the milking herd, which ones to leave out for silage etc. Sometimes I feel you can be too over-focused with farming. After all the first six months of the season are the MOST IMPORTANT!!!! So bring on the next six months, where hopefully things will calm down and be easier, with more time off too.

The one shining light over calving was using HAY, and lots of it to ALL MOBS! Springers, colostrums and milkers. We dusted the hay in the feed-out wagon with magnesium or calcium which had reduced our milk fever cases. The cows were settled a lot more and gave us less STRESS!

The milkers had hay for the first 30 days of lactation to prevent ruminal acidosis (which I covered in my last blog). We also ended up using the 30 t DM stack of silage to get us through to balance day.

Unfortunately during calving there were some casualties: 1 pet food and 1 milk fever. But overall it was a successful and rather easy (weather-wise) calving. Stuart Rogers from Hoof-It trimmed 47 cows with his very impressive mobile crush with all the bells and whistles (editor’s aside: if you would like to see Stuart’s crush in action have a look at SMASH’s lameness videos). I told him to add weigh scales on there as it would be super useful and handy to know how much the cows actually weigh if you don’t have the facilities on farm yourself.

We bought 10 heifers and 9 young in-milk cows during calving at an average cost of $2,050 per cow. Dad and I have agreed to actually milk less cows this season (15 cows less than last season) – a total of 235 cows.

We don’t grow any crops here on farm. We just apply as much nitrogen as we can through the spring to make as much stack silage before the dry kicks in. To date our units of N per ha sit at 115, so not much left till we are at the 190 limit.



As I type we have 23 ha of silage on the ground. At the beginning of October we made 17 ha. Per cow production is up this season with us only being 1% down for the season compared to last season. The cows are milking like superstars – around 2.25 –2.3 kg MS per cow, depending on the fat/protein test. We are feeding them all they can eat meal at 10-12 kg per day. I have been giving them a midday shift (when and where possible) of a ha to increase grass intake of 2-3 kg. This makes our round length 18-20 days. With calves (43) in the middle of the rotation eating 4 bags of meal a day and shifted every day. Our calves were weaned at 80 kg. It was a challenging start to spring with the lack of SUNSHINE! Sunshine for the cows to make more milk. Sunshine for the pasture for higher ME grass and to actually grow the grass. It seems to me this spring has been a lot colder too.


Mating has gone well. I’m not too fussed with submission rates as they are getting all the feed and energy to cycle and get in-calf. You can throw as much money, time and effort into them but at the end of the day it’s up to nature. AB started on the 9th October and 8 bulls entered the herd on the 1st November (split into 2 mobs of 4, AM & PM rotation). I have organised the bulls to leave on the 17th December.

Our soil test results came back with a few blocks of the farm low in sulphur and potassium. We use SustaiN 25K after the silage has been taken off. We are using potassium to increase clover growth as well. Throughout spring we have used Ammo 36N and PhasedN for the sulphur.

Nitrogen Surplus. What does that figure really mean and breaking it down

Purchased Nitrogen Surplus reflects the relationship between the amount of nitrogen entering your farm system through fertiliser and feed, versus the amount leaving the farm as product. A high number means you may not be using purchased nitrogen efficiently and therefore more nitrogen may be lost to the environment.

The only way we can lower our number is to reduce our bought in feed and fertiliser use.

Over the last three seasons we have decreased our nitrogen fertiliser use, but with growing less grass this has meant we have had to buy in more supplements. The only way we can change this is by milking less cows. Something that is hard for high stocked, high input farms. Especially the ones that have put a lot of money into infrastructure to support a high stocking rate.


E. coli mastitis – I did not know this existed until the other day, when over the last month we have lost two cows to this – we thought it was Black Mastitis. Black Mastitis is caused by Staph. aureus while acute toxic mastitis is due to a severe E. coli infection. Dr Lisa Whitfield shared her expertise about the two conditions on Facebook recently:

“The names don’t matter much to begin with – both will present the same initially – as many people have stated, picking them out early is the key to saving the cow – this is where your observation skills and knowing your cows is invaluable. You will see a sick cow, usually picking her by her being slow/sluggish at shifting – and I would describe them as off in the eye (sunken, sad eyes) – if you see this, it is absolutely essential to get her out and check her then and there, even if it is a pain in the ass to do so.

Often they will have a fever over 40 degrees Celsius. Dehydration is common to both types of mastitis, but will be ongoing and severe for E. coli cows. Dehydration + fever = really miserable cow that doesn’t want to eat.

Milk samples are invaluable in figuring out the best course of action to treat the cow as knowing the bug means you can tailor the treatment to suit.

Both types of mastitis must have:

1) Anti-inflammatories on board as soon as possible.

2) Fluid therapy – give either case 30 to 40L of fluids via stomach pump, with added electrolytes and ketol. E.coli cases will often need ongoing fluid therapy for a few days in order to recover.

3) As the cows are sick and you don’t know what the bug is for at least 24 hours – giving antibiotics in the early stages is essential, particularly for Staph. cases. For E. coli cases the antibiotics aren’t actually essential but you don’t know that when you first start treating the cow. There are a range of antibiotics that are suitable – your vet will advise you on which one they think is best

With true Black Mastitis – as people have mentioned, the blood supply to the quarter becomes damaged and the skin over the quarter and teat will go cold to the touch – if this happens, it is basically almost guaranteed she will lose the quarter – the welfare of the cow needs to be taken into consideration at this point and I’m glad to hear some vets out there are recommending euthanasia – it is a long, painful and miserable process for the cow to go through to let her quarter become an abscess and slough off, just to be able to get her to the works. But each to their own. Staph. aureus is a bug spread from cow to cow through infected milk. Most often it is subclinical mastitis and hard to detect. Clinical cases of Staph. will often be a bit sick, but interestingly they don’t know what triggers the nasty cases that are Black Mastitis.

With (severe) E. coli mastitis – once the bacteria is out of the cow’s system they can recover just fine – but the care given over those first few days while she is really sick will make all the difference. The quarter may get damaged and be a light quarter for the rest of the season, but not necessarily. And the quarters often recover full production in the following season. E.coli is an environmental bug – and the biggest source on farms is cow shit getting onto/into the teat.”

That’s it for now, I will cover off the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a Christmas edition blog when I’ll have a lot more information. This is the one we definitely need to reduce or pay some sort of tax towards. I have also included our DairyBase report regarding costs over the last three seasons. For now it’s production before 1st January and making as much silage as possible before summer hits. Keep making sure you have time to SWITCH OFF from farming.

Operating Profit for the 2020-21 season was $2,940 per hectare. Operating Profit is made up of Gross Farm Revenue $7.32 per kg MS less Operating Expenses $5.94, multiplied by the production per hectare of 2,131 kg.

P.S. Had a few glasses of wine the night of the forecast payout going up by 40c, & GDT still rising well! Watch out Tatua payout, we are coming for you! HAHA.

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