Close attention to dry cow period is key to success

Researchers and successful dairy farmers now regard the nutrition and management of dry cows more important — and more difficult — than milking cows.

Many successful farmers are now putting a lot of effort into effective management of their dry cows. Their aim is to have cows drying off in the same condition (score 3-3.25) as they will calve down.

Adequate energy, minerals and trace elements are very important. Specific feeding and management systems for the dry cow period have been developed by companies with, for example, Dairygold Co-op, Keenans, Dairymaster, Alltech and other companies combining to provide successful dry cow feeding systems which ensure each cow gets her correct requirements.

Nutrition Related Problems

As well as infertility, mastitis and production problems, which are very obvious to farmers, there are many other serious health problems associated with having dry cows being overfed or underfed, or not being properly supplemented with minerals and trace elements.

Top nutritionists and vets frequently outline some of these diseases, including milk fever, ketosis, fatty liver, acidosis, retained placentas, metritis, difficult calvings, laminitis, lameness, mastitis and displaced abomasums.

Interestingly, they emphasise that up to 90% of losses, associated with some of these diseases, can be sub-clinical or sub-acute, and may not be obvious to farmers. Metabolic diseases around calving time and in early lactation cause major losses on many farms and account for much of the huge difference in profitability between similar type farms. The risks are greater in cows that are bred for high yields. Preventative measures are essential as one problem is likely to lead to others. For example, cows that get milk fever are eight times more likely to get other problems.

Unsuitable nutrition (including minerals/trace elements) increases culling rate, metabolic diseases, lameness, and mastitis, and reduces fertility, milk yield and milk composition, and has enormous potential to reduce profit. Having cows too fat can be as bad as too thin. An extremely important time for proper nutritional status is in the weeks leading up to calving, and in early lactation, until cows are back in calf.

Due to the difficult superlevy situation this season, some over-quota farmers may be tempted to be careless with this aspect of dairy herd management, but this would only make a bad situation worst.

Research has shown that there is a large reduction in feed intake and energy balance (about 50%) in the weeks before calving.

Where management and feed quality are not suitable, there is an increased risk of slow and difficult calving and retained placenta; fatty liver and ketosis; displaced abomasums; reduced feed intake and production after calving; reduced fertility; and immuno-suppression (which leaves animals susceptible to other diseases).


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