Late pregnancy management of sucklers is hugely important, says Teagasc

The late pregnancy management of sucklers is hugely important, according to Teagasc. Spring-calving suckler cows are now in mid or late pregnancy. Pre-calving management and preparing for calving is hugely important in order to avoid problems in the coming months. Simple management tips to consider are:

Stocking Rate in Pens – As the calf foetus grows, so too does the space required by suckler cows. If your pens are overstocked, cow performance will suffer. This is due to restricted movement in pens which in turn reduces free access to forage. If you are restricting silage and feeding meal, make sure all cows can eat at the barrier at the one time.

Body Condition Score (BCS) – spring-calving cows need to be at BCS 2.5 at calving. Cows should be divided and fed according to their BCS status when housed. Fat cows (BCS4) may experience calving difficulties while thin cows (BCS2 or less) may suffer depressed milk yield and may be delayed returning to heat for the next breeding season.Restrict feed to fat cows, while thin cows may need concentrates in order to meet their BCS target at calving time.Grouping cows on body condition will allow feeding levels to be targeted to nutritional demand.

The ideal situation is where cows can be split into three groups – fat cows can have fodder restricted depending on quality, cows in ideal body condition can be fed ad lib silage and thin cows will require supplementation with concentrate.

It is important to act early – Research at Grange has shown you cannot reduce calving difficulty by starving cows. Equally, over feeding concentrates in the last few weeks approaching calving in the hope of getting cows into the required body condition does not work. The cow will put this extra feeding into the calf leading to bigger calf at calving and more difficulties. This means if you have thin cows feed concentrate in conjunction with silage from the day you house cows.

You can monitor their condition and if they are getting to fleshy pull back on the concentrate levels. Cows need to be monitored throughout the winter so that cows are ‘fit and not fat’ before calving.

  • Spring calvers in good condition (Feed 1kg extra below for thin cows)
    72 DMD Feed restricted access silage (80% of requirements)
    65 DMD Feed silage ad lib
    60 DMD Feed silage ad lib + 0.5-1.0 kg meals
    55 DMD Feed silage ad lib + 1.0 kg meals

Parasites
Fluke and lice are the most troublesome parasite of suckler cows. Well fed, healthy cows have strong immunity to worms. All housed cows should have been treated for fluke at this stage. If treating cows now, consult your vet on the most effective product to use. When treating for lice make sure to cover all the stock in the shed at the one time.

Mineral/Trace Element Supplementation
Silage is generally well balanced in major minerals but is deficient in trace elements such as Copper, Selenium and Iodine. Pre-calving mineral licks (in buckets) can be offered to cows six weeks prior to calving. Alternatively, a dry cow mineral mix can be sprinkled on the silage at a rate of 100grams per head/day for six weeks before calving. If feeding thin cows concentrate check mineral content as compound rations will contain minerals.

Vaccination for Scours
Vaccines can be used in combination with good nutrition and hygiene to combat infections. Vaccines against E.coli, Rotavirus, Coronavirus and Salmonella will give passive immunity to calves via colostrum. These vaccines generally have to be given 1-3 months prior to calving to be effective so make sure you check with your vet with regard to timing of vaccination.

By Anthony O’Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit.

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