Dry and transition cow nutrition: The importance of it and getting it right

Preparing pre-fresh cows to properly transition from the dry period to lactation is instrumental to the success of the cows once they freshen and begin lactation.

Several problems can occur if a cow does not transition properly. Common problems such as: sub-clinical or clinical hypocalcemia (milk fever); displaced abomasum; retained placenta; ketosis; dystocia; and metritis can occur.

To avoid the problems (above), we need to look at the cow’s nutrition during the dry period.

Dry period

The importance of getting the cow’s diet right during the dry period will help to reduce calving issues. Avoiding calving issues is down to having cows calving down in good condition.

Ensuring cows are fed adequately will help them to achieve high milk production and produce a healthy calf. So, as we approaching dry-off on many farms, ideally, we would like our cows to be dried off with a body condition score (BCS) of 3-3.25.

Affording cows a substantial dry period is essential for a number of reasons. For example, lame cows or those that are thin will require a longer dry period to recover.

Also, cows just need a break to replenish depleted nutrients, repair mammary glands and to boost their immune system, as well as focusing on diverting energy and nutrients towards their growing calf.

Dry cow nutrition

Nutrition plays a key role in the management of these cows. A balanced dry and transition cow nutrition programme, as well as meeting nutrient requirements at specific stages during this period, provides a platform for cows to express their true genetic potential.

On dairy farms, the dry and transition cows are the most important groups on the farm. Getting the cows off to a good start will determine the success of the whole lactation. Care must be taken to avoid weight gain in the cows just after they are dried off, particularly in cows that have had an extended lactation.

In the three weeks prior to calving, the cow’s requirements change dramatically as she prepares for lactation. Dry matter intake (DMI) falls, just as the cow starts to make colostrum and her requirement for energy, protein and nutrients increases. This requires careful management to ensure an easy calving and smooth transition onto the milking ration.

The Agri-King dry and transition cow nutrition programme ensures that the requirements of the cow are met and she can produce at an optimum level.

Health problems such as milk fever, retained placenta, metritis and displaced abomasum are common after calving and lead to significant loss of production and fertility and, of course, incur additional veterinary costs. Agri-King enables producers to keep these metabolic problems to a minimum.

Transition period

During the transition period, a cow’s feed intake reduces by 25%. On top of that, the cow’s rumen capacity is reduced, due to her growing calf. Furthermore, the demands on her are higher to produce colostrum and to supply energy and nutrients to her growing calf.

Therefore, to reduce health risks and boost the cow’s immunity, a cow will need a DMI of at least 11.5kg.

The heart of the ration programme – at Agri-King – is called PCI (pre-calving index). This is unique to Agri-King and has been developed over the past 15 years through extensive research and experience.

The PCI index is essentially a summary of the effects that several factors in the diet consumed have on the blood pH.

The goal of the PCI is to create a diet that will acidify the blood and cause the cow’s urine pH to drop. This pH range will tell us we have successfully put the pre-fresh cows in a controlled state of metabolic acidosis which forces calcium to be released (in the form of calcium carbonate) from the bones.

Moreover, a diet consisting of 14% crude protein (CP) needs to be fed, along with a starch content of 1.5kg, while a maximum of 2kg straw can also be fed.

Well-balanced diet

Well-balanced transition diets can increase cow health and calf health, as well as increasing production and improving reproductive cost.

Therefore, by having a well-balanced transition diet you can go about reducing vet costs, decreasing the number of cows being culled and most importantly improving on-farm profits.

Additional Information

Additional information is available on the Agri-King website, or by contacting the office in the Republic of Ireland on: 01-6575628; or the UK on: 01243-558884.

You can also e-mail: [email protected]; or, alternatively: [email protected].

In addition, you can also visit the Agri-King website at: www.agriking.com.

For a free on-farm consultation, please contact any of the area managers listed (below).

Find your local Agri-King area manager in the list below:

  • Matt Tungate: 07554-401457 – Donegal and Derry;
  • Philip Lynch: 07760-999278 – Antrim;
  • Robert Kinnear: 07881-315059 – Fermanagh and Tyrone;
  • Alan Lockhart: 07813-857618 – Armagh and Down;
  • Séamus Brady: 086-0432700 – Cavan and Monaghan;
  • Domhnall Waldron: 087-2545035 – Mayo and Galway;
  • Nicholas Leen: 087-9228000 – Kerry and Clare;
  • Michael O’Neill: 087-2436612 – Limerick, South Tipperary and West Cork;
  • Amy Lynott: 087-4174287 – East Cork and Waterford;
  • Stephen Hughes: 086-7013463 – Wexford and Wicklow;
  • Gerard Dunne: 086-8529955 – Kilkenny, Carlow and North Tipperary;
  • Kevin McWey: 086-7916250 – Laois, Offaly and Kildare;
  • Alan Walker: 087-9877742 – Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath, and Louth;
  • Terry Sloane: 087-8106184 – all other areas.