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Dr Zoe Vogels

This June I was lucky enough to spend ten days in Taiwan. Myself and a fellow vet, Liz Bramley, gave talks on reproduction (such as diseases and synchrony programs) and cow behaviour and handling. We visited a number of dairy farms too. While small in size, the island of Taiwan has a dairy industry of about 500 farms, with an average herd size of 150. Farmers are paid $0.75–$1 USD per L ($0.97-$1.30 AUD), with the highest milk price in summer due to demand for milk for their bubble tea (which is cold milk tea with balls of tapioca in it).

Taiwan has a hot, humid environment and heat stress can impact significantly on a farm’s reproductive performance – poor expression of oestrus, low conception rates and impaired immune function. Lack of vaccines against diseases such as vibriosis and lepto is also a challenge. Some suggestions we were able to offer to try and improve reproductive performance were fixed time AI, appropriate treatment of RFMS and metritis and metrichecking and treating cows with endometritis.

As cows are all housed in Taiwan, good housing and free stall design are vital to reduce mastitis risk AND increase milk production – farms need to ensure both a comfortable lying surface and enough space for their cows. One North American study found that every extra hour lying down resulted in an extra 1.7kg of milk each day. Teat sealants are just beginning to come on to farms (in addition to antibiotic dry cow treatment) and it will be interesting to see what impact its use has on clinical mastitis rates at calving time on Taiwanese dairy farms.

While preparing for our farmer presentations on cow handling, I came across an interesting paper that compared milk production in herds that were treated calmly vs not so calmly (eg more shouting, presence of dogs, use of poly pipe). When cows are calm and happy, the hormone oxytocin is released from the brain, which causes the smooth muscles around the alveoli in the udder to “squeeze” out the milk. Without good oxytocin release, not all the milk is squeezed out. The calm cows in the study had 10% greater milk yields at milking time. Another study found that cows which were handled calmly and quietly had about 600kg of milk per cow per year. For Taiwanese farms, at an average of $1.14 AUD/L that’s close to $700 extra income per cow per year, just by being calmer, quiet and consistent (and if you multiply that by 150 = $105,000). Some homework for you (or your children) is to work out how much this extra production would be worth for your farm!

Taiwan is a country of contrasts – rice paddies interspersed with high rise apartment complexes. The fresh fruit is fantastic and the transport infrastructure impressive. I have included some of my photos with this article but if you want to know more or see more photos please ask.

Discussing transition diets

Milk quality instructions in a dairy