Lots of boxes to tick in order to get through calving smoothly

The 2015 calving season is almost upon us.

It is important to tick as many boxes as possible prior to the calves arriving. Preparations should start now, in the dry period.

On both beef and dairy farms, management of the dry cow is critical in achieving a successful calving event.

Cows under-nourished during the dry period won’t have enough energy to function after calving. Cows over-fed during the dry period will often have calving difficulties and associated metabolic disorders after calving.

Management of dry suckler cows should be based on the following aims:

Producing a healthy calf without complications.

Cleaning quickly after calving.

Calving free of metabolic disorders (retained afterbirth, ketosis, milk fever, displaced abomasum).

Providing quality colostrum for the calf.

Providing sufficient milk of good quality to rear the calf.

Optimising grazed grass utilisation.

Going back in calf quickly.

It is all about ticking as many boxes as possible.

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? (Address this well in advance of calving).
  • If it is a heifer, does she need to grow more? (If she does, do it sooner rather than later, well in advance of her calving date).
  • What is her calving date? (Have you scanned and/or do you have an insemination date?)

Dry Cow Nutrition

Once you have established what the dry cow wants, you must then 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 is the quality of 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 quality is not as good as would have been hoped for. (Remember that if you are lucky enough to have very good quality silage, it can be way too good for dry sucklers, particularly if they are dry for a long period.)

All of the above issues have 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 to dry suckler cows. It is not uncommon to come across suckler herdowners that don’t supply any minerals to cows.

Many herdowners now use a bolus in the dry period as their means of mineral supplementation, and this has proved to work very well on many farms. But I would suggest that additional mineral supplementation beyond a bolus would be a good idea.

Lab results for silage are telling me that all the mineral elements required by cows are not ideal this year. High chloride and potassium are common in a lot of silages. High antagonists such as lead, aluminium and iron are also a common finding in silage tests. By all means, use a bolus, but in conjunction with a dust mineral that supplies additional macro minerals and vitamins.

Dosing 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 the goals outlined above surrounding the calving event more difficult to achieve.

Calf Health

If you had calf health issues last spring, ask your vet about the best way of minimising re-occurrence of these problems. What should you vaccinate for? Most vaccines need time in the cow’s system before they provide optimum protection. Don’t forget hygiene practices in your housing, to reducing spread of disease.

Remember, 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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