The suckler calving season is almost upon us. It is important to tick as many boxes as possible prior to calves arriving.
Preparations should start now, in the dry period.
On beef and dairy farms, dry cow management is critical in achieving a successful calving event.
Under-nourished cows during the dry period won’t have enough energy to function after calving.
Over-fed cows during the dry period will often have calving difficulties and associated metabolic disorders after calving.Management of dry suckler cows should be based around these aims:
* Producing a healthy calf without complications.
* Cleaning quickly after calving.
* Calving down free of metabolic disorders (such as retained afterbirth, ketosis, milk fever, displaced abomasum).
* Providing quality colostrum for the calf.
* Providing sufficient milk of good quality to rear the calf.
* Optimising grazing utilisation.
* Going back in calf quickly.
You must, as with all livestock nutrition decisions, establish the animal’s requirements first.
What are the cow’s requirements for maintenance, calf growth and mammary development?
What is her current body condition? If it is a heifer, does she need to grow more?
What is her calving date?
Dry cow nutrition
Once you have established what the dry cow wants, you must establish the most effective way of delivering these requirements to her.
What feeds are on the farm?
Is sufficient forage available?
What feeds are available locally? What quality is the available feed?
Is silage palatable? Is it wet or dry? How well has it preserved?
What feeding system do you have on the farm? Can all dry cows eat at the one time?
What issues did you encounter around calving in the last calving season? Look back at your records!
On most farms, the silage is much better than last year. Remember that very good silage can be way too good for dry sucklers, particularly if they are dry for a long period.
All of the above issues have a huge bearing on whether you can achieve the required performance consistently for the majority of cows in the herd. How you feed dry cows will also have a large influence on how they will perform and digest their feeding after calving. Remember that you want these cows to produce a lot of milk cheaply from grazed grass, to maximise weanling weight. Mineral Supplementation
Many will over-simplify mineral supplementation for dry suckler cows. It is not uncommon to come across suckler herdowners that don’t supply any minerals to cows.
Many herds now use a bolus in the dry period as their means of mineral supplementation. This has proved to work very well on many farms.
I would suggest that additional mineral supplementation beyond a bolus is a good idea. Lab results for silages are telling me that they are not ideal this year for all the mineral requirements of cows. High chloride and potassium are common in a lot of silages. By all means, use a bolus, but in conjunction with a dust mineral that supplies additional macro minerals and vitamins.Dosing of Suckler Cows
Dosing is another box which needs to be ticked in suckler herds. It may be worth doing dung samples to establish the correct course of action. Dry sucklers should be treated for internal and external parasites after housing.
This will help with body condition improvement or maintenance, while improving feed digestion. Parasites, if untreated, dramatically reduce animal performance, and make goals outlined above harder to achieve.Calf Health
If you had calf health issues last spring, ask your vet about the best way to minimise these problems. What should you vaccinate for? Most vaccines need time in the cow’s system before they provide optimum protection.
Don’t forget good hygiene practices in your housing as a means of reducing the spread of disease.
Remember that each box you tick is one less thing to worry about.
Look back at your records, and seek out effective solutions to past problems.
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