It is very important to realise that in the four weeks coming up to calving, the silage intake of cows drops off by 30-50%.
After calving, milk yield increases much more rapidly than intake capacity, resulting in a long period of under-feeding.
Peak milk yield is reached in about six weeks after calving, while peak appetite is not reached for about 12 weeks.
Even on good quality grass, cows’ intake is only 10kg/day in the first week after calving, while it increases by 1kg/week for the following six or seven weeks.
Cows should therefore get some concentrates for at least the first six weeks of their lactation.
Low intake after calving can have a very serious effect on cows, especially if forage quality is only average or poor.
Excessive weight loss between calving and breeding has been shown to be the major cause of infertility, in Teagasc Moorepark farm trials.
Cows losing less than 0.4 of a condition score between calving and first service have more than double the conception rate of those losing 0.5 of a condition score or over.
Feeding 2-3 kg of a suitable concentrates to cows for a few weeks before calving can generally be recommended.
Some compounders have specifically properly balanced nuts, including pre-calving minerals and yeast, for this purpose.
This concentrate helps to maintain intake in the run-up to calving, and conditions the rumen to allow much quicker introduction of concentrates after calving.
It also minimises health problems around and after calving.
Trials have shown that this concentrate does not increase calving problems with Friesian/Holstein type calves, provided cows don’t get too fat.
It may be somewhat different with first calvers, if they get too fat.
It is widely accepted now that treatment of cows during the dry period and especially in the run-up to calving is vital to success for the remainder of the season.
This is built into dry cow programmes operated by co-ops and companies, designed to have cows calving in ideal condition, properly prepared for the milking season, and free of metabolic diseases after calving.
Where cows are calving close to going to grass, there is less likelihood of problems.
The periods two or three weeks before calving, and early lactation, are also critical for proper feeding and cow care, if you want to raise the six-week calving rate to 90%, from the present national rate of 60%, over a period of a few years.
Achieving this has been estimated by researchers to be worth €25,000 in a 100-cow herd.
Feeding after calving
For calved cows indoors on 70 DMD silage, there will be an economic response to feeding 6-8 kg of 18-20% protein ration (24% with maize) per cow pr day, peaking at 30L/6.5 gallons (adjust the ration 1kg for each five DMD units above or below 70)
With a few hours of good quality grazing and silage ad lib, feed about 5 kg.
When out by day and on silage by night, concentrates can be reduced to 4 kg, depending on grass quality.
When cows are outdoor fully, feed about 3 kg of concentrates.
In practice, many farmers feed above or below these levels. Taking chances with under-feeding can have serious long-term effects.
Most concentrates should be front-loaded in the early lactation. If some cows are losing too much condition, they could be put on once-a-day milking for a while.
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