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Nutritional Management for Autumn Calving Herds

freezian cows

Nutritional Management for Autumn Calving Herds

In spite of the current low milk prices, there are some fundamental management and nutritional practices that should be adhered to coming into the dry period for autumn calving cows. These basic principles will help to reduce costs overall through improved production and less sick animals, and of course will ultimately result in improved fertility performance.

Body Condition Score of cows is a key management tool in ensuring that Negative Energy Balance, an unavoidable condition in early lactation, is controlled and minimised. BCS monitoring throughout the year allows the farmer to actively select and monitor cows that increase or decrease BCS throughout the year. Having cows in uniform BCS at calving (3 – 3.25), and at breeding (2.75-3) ensures fewer problem animals and improved fertility performance.

After calving, dairy cows milk yield increases and a very fast rate, however their appetite (Dry Matter Intake) is much slower to respond to the increased demand for nutrients, and critically, energy. The resulting situation is that these cows are said to be in Negative Energy Balance. Having cows in correct BCS at calving, and formulating a diet that provides an energy dense, balanced feed for the cow in late pregnancy and early lactation (Transition Period) will minimise the incidences of metabolic and reproductive disorders at calving, and prevent excessive BCS mobilisation in early lactation.

While it is normal, and often unavoidable, for cows to lose BCS in early lactation, it becomes a much bigger issue when cows lose too much Body condition (>0.5 BCS) or continue to lose BCS over a prolonged period of time. These cows have been shown in various trials to be sub fertile, with less cows showing heat, increases in Cystic and non-cycling cows. An easy method of helping to minimise NEB in early lactation is to reduce the overall Crude Protein Level (Ingredients such as Soya, Rapeseed meal, Distillers Dried Grains are quite High in Protein) in the Cow’s Diet and ensure that as much energy is allowed (Maize grain, Barley, Wheat are all energy dense ingredients in the Diet). Aim for rations with a UFL value approaching 1.0. Crude protein levels in the overall diet for cows producing 27 litres should be around 16-18%, or more accurately 1550-1770g of protein per day on the PDI system. Check the Protein level of your forages as they can and will vary from cut to cut and this can have a big impact on the cost of your diet and the level of supplementation required.

A proactive nutritional management programme should be put in place to ensure that mineral deficiencies (clinical or sub-clinical) do not arise, especially during the lead up to and during the breeding period (Butler et al., 2012). There are a variety of ways of supplementing minerals to cows in the breeding season such as in the concentrate supplement, through the water, boluses, drenches and free access, dusted on feed or TMR included, powdered mineral mixes. The important thing to remember is that you, and your nutritionist knows all sources of minerals being given to cows, so as to ensure that correct, and safe levels are administered.

Nutribio/CAHL manufactures and supplies the complete range of vitamin and trace element products to suit all farming systems. Please contact your local Nutribio/CAHL sales representative for further information on these.

Andrew McInerney Nutribio/CAHL Nutritionist