Our region has been luckier than many in the wake of cyclone Gabrielle. Even so with the likelihood of more weather events in the future this has provided a sobering opportunity for us to plan and prepare for future disasters.
DairyNZ research has shown that mid-lactation herds can tolerate delays of up to a week and, with careful handling, they can return to full or near-full milk production. If milkings are missed for up to a week, then cows should recover with the exception of very low producing cows.
To help manage cows that can’t be milked, we recommend
Feed cows as best you can. Reducing feed quality or volume will start the drying-off process and it will be harder to get cows back to production, especially later in lactation. Access to clean water is also desirable but may not be realistic in flooded environments.
Milking once a day is okay to start with. If you are sharing milking facilities with neighbours or more urgent things require time, you can afford to be flexible and milk once a day or twice in three days until twice daily milking is an option again.
Udders are likely to be very dirty, especially at the first milking. If udders are covered in mud, then wash the udders thoroughly, let them drip dry, then wash just the teats again. If the udders are not badly covered in mud, just wash the teats. Be very thorough with teat spray application after milking and ensure there is sufficient emollient in the spray to improve teat condition.
In the DairyNZ trials, a quarter of the cows not milked for seven days developed mastitis. The bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) is likely to be high for two to five days after milking resumes depending on the period without milking. Strip the herd and check for mastitis every two days if possible to detect new mastitis cases early.
If cows cannot be milked for a week or more, depending on the stage of lactation, drying off the whole herd may be the best option, particularly if they do not produce much milk and have started to dry off.
Talk to the dairy company and district or regional councils. They will have contingency plans for emergency disposal of milk and will be keen to help and advise on each farm’s individual situation.
Look after yourself. If there are heavy demands on your time clearing away damage or sorting out problems, it may be worthwhile to miss a few milkings and sacrifice some production in the short term to allow you to cope better for the rest of the season.
And of course let us know, we are here to support you.