Researchers and successful dairy farmers now regard the nutrition and management of dry cows as more important, and more difficult to manage, than the milking period.
Many successful farmers are putting a lot of effort into developing an effective management plan for their dry cows.
The aim is to have cows drying off and calving down at condition score (CS) 3 to 3.25.
Adequate energy, minerals and trace elements are very important.
Dairygold and some other feed companies have developed specific feeding and management systems for the dry cow period.
Dairygold, Keenans, Dairymaster, Alltech and some other companies have combined to provide successful dry cow feeding systems which ensure that each cow gets her requirements.
As well as infertility, mastitis and production problems, which are very obvious to farmers, there are many other very serious health problems associated with having dry cows being overfed or underfed, or not properly supplemented with minerals and trace elements.
Dr Finbar Mulligan, from UCD’s Vet and Science College, has frequently outlined that up to 90% of losses associated with some of these diseases can be sub-clinical or sub-acute, meaning they may not be obvious to farmers.
Such diseases include milk fever, ketosis, fatty liver, acidosis, retained placentas, metritis, difficult calvings, laminitis, lameness, mastitis, and displaced abomasums.
These 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.
Dr Mulligan suggests that preventative measures are essential, or one problem is likely to lead to others.
For example, cows that get milk fever are eight times more likely to get other problems.
Poor nutrition status (including minerals/trace elements) increases culling rate, metabolic disease, lameness, and mastitis.
It reduces fertility, milk yield, and milk composition, and has enormous potential to reduce profit.
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. Research findings have shown that a large reduction in feed intake and energy balance before calving, which usually occurs where management and feed quality are inadequate, is related to the following:
*Slow and difficult calving and retained placenta
*Fatty liver and ketosis
*Reduced feed intake and reduced production after calving
*Immunosuppression, which leaves animals susceptible to other diseases.
Having cows too fat can be as bad as too thin.
The following problems are associated with cows that are too fat during the dry period:
* Long periods of low intakes and negative energy after calving.
* Increased chances of milk fever, fatty liver, ketosis, difficult calving, retained placenta and displaced abomasum.
* 30% lower feed intake in early lactation.
Based on these findings, there is no alternative to having dry cows at the correct condition score. Ideally, cows should be dried off around CS 3 to 3.25, and be maintained at that condition until calving.
Loss of condition between calving and breeding has a major effect on fertility. Large scale Moorepark farm trials indicated that cows which lose half a CS or more have a much lower conception rate than those losing only a quarter of a CS.
Transition feeding a few kgs of properly balanced concentrates for a few weeks before calving is very successful in many herds, as it minimises the reduction in intake before calving, and conditions the rumen for higher levels of concentrates after calving.
This is particularly important in high-yielding autumn calving herds, where high levels of concentrates are fed after calving.
A sudden change in diet after calving can potentially lead to acidosis, where high levels of concentrates are fed. Concentrates should be introduced very gradually, especially where transition feeding is not practiced.
Rumen pH samples from sample herds tested by UCD indicated that a quarter of herds may suffer from sub-acute (not obvious) acidosis. This often leads to laminitis, reduces feed intake, causes negative energy balance, excess loss of body condition in early lactation, and reduces mounting behaviour.
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