Spring calving is just around the corner

Last week, I wrote here about breeding in the autumn suckler herd.

For spring herds, calving is almost upon us for 2017.

Achieving a successful calving season depends on many factors.

Among these are feeding management, housing/facilities, animal health, good husbandry and parasite control.

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 and compete within the herd after calving. But over-fed cows during the dry period will often have associated calving difficulties and metabolic disorders after calving.

Obviously, most spring calvers are dry at this stage.

Keeping them at the correct body condition is important, to avoid issues around calving, and help get them back in calf next year.

Setting dry suckler cow management goals

* Producing a healthy calf without complications.

* Passing the cleaning quickly after calving.

* Calving down free of metabolic disorders such as retained afterbirth, ketosis, milk fever, or displaced abomasum.

* Provide quality colostrum for the calf.

* Provide sufficient milk of good quality to rear the calf.

* Optimise grazed grass utilisation.

* Going back in calf quickly.

Establish nutritional requirements first

What are the cow’s requirements for maintenance, calf growth and mammary development?

What is the current body condition? Are cows over-conditioned? Do you need cows to gain some condition%

Do heifers need to grow more before calving?

What are the calving dates?

Knowing approximate dates makes it easier to group and feed dry cows appropriately.

More suckler producers are scanning cows, for more reliable calving dates; it is a fantastic management tool.

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.

It is worth bearing in mind that there is a wide variation in the crude protein of 2016 silages. This must be taken into consideration, when doing feed planning for cows.

What feeds are on the farm? Controlled feeding of straw is a great way of keeping body condition right.

Is there sufficient forage in stock? What feeds are available locally?

What is the quality of available feed?

Is silage palatable? Is it wet or dry? Many silages are very dry this year, and as a result, dry sucklers could overeat quite easily.

How well has silage preserved? Do you have a silage result? What is the protein content?

What feeding system do you have on the farm, free access silage or diet feeding?

Can all dry cows eat at the one time?

Are cows grouped according to calving date and/or body condition?

What issues did you encounter around calving in the last calving season? Look back at your records.

Have you got your cows covered sufficiently for parasites? 2016 has proved to be a difficult year with regard to parasite control on many livestock farms.

All of these issues have a bearing on whether you can achieve the required performance consistently for the cows in your 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 sufficient milk to grow and rear their calf cheaply from grazed grass, to maximise weanling weight.

Minerals for dry suckler cows

Some herd-owners over-simplify mineral supplementation to dry suckler cows.

It would not be uncommon to come across suckler herds that don’t supply any minerals at all to dry cows.

Many herds 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. I would suggest however, given the silage mineral profiles again this year, that additional mineral supplementation beyond a bolus is a good idea.

Silage testing laboratories are telling me, just like in 2015, that many of the mineral elements required by cows are lower in silage samples, while the antagonists such as iron, aluminium and molybdenum are again at very high levels, well above the norm.


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