Dry cow management plan ‘not to be underestimated’

Dairy farmers are being reminded of the important role of dry cow management, in particular nutrition, when looking to secure future herd health, fertility and productivity.

Nutritional advisor at UK based company Quality Liquid Feeds (QLF), Rob Fowkes, explained that 80% of problems such as mastitis; hypocalcaemia (milk fever); retained fetal membranes; ketosis; and displaced abomasums (DA) can usually be traced back to poor management during the dry period.

“Looking after dry cows properly will lead to improved transition success with a higher milk yield, improved health and increased fertility,” he said.

He stated that dry cow management should start well ahead of drying off.

Two to three months before the end of lactation, he explained that diets should be adjusted “to try and ensure that cows are dried off at a body condition score (BCS) of three“.

Fowkes explained: “The aim is to try and maintain this level of condition through careful nutrition. This can be achieved by gradually increasing low d-value forages, such as straw, to maintain rumen fill while reducing energy intakes.”

The QLF nutritional advisor explained that merely adding straw to the ration is not enough and that the ration should be formulated carefully to restrict energy, but also include adequate protein and essential vitamins and minerals.

He outlined that a typical diet at eight to three weeks prior to calving should include:
  • Restricted grazing or 7-8kg dry matter of forage;
  • 4-5kg of straw;
  • 2kg of a molasses-based supplement, such as Dry Cow Optimiser;
  • Plenty of fresh, clean water.

He added that a supplement, such as Dry Cow Optimiser – which contains chelated copper, zinc and selenium – plus vitamin E and magnesium should be included to help the cows immunity at calving and reduce the risk of milk fever.

Three weeks pre-calving

Once the cow reaches three weeks pre-calving, Fowkes outlined the importance of altering the ration in line with her energy demands.

Nutritional requirements increases rapidly in the last few weeks prior to calving due to calf growth and the cow undergoing major physiological changes to help prepare herself for birth.

He stressed that, although the cow’s energy demands increase significantly at this time, the cow’s appetite will also reduce significantly as a result of the rumen being restricted by the size of the calf.

Commenting on the inclusion of a molasses-based supplement in the diet, he said: “Not only does this increase energy intake, but it will also help to stick the ration together to reduce sorting, ensuring high intakes and good distribution of vitamins and minerals.”

Fowkes highlighted that, if correct nutrition during the dry period is achieved, farmers will optimise the lactation performance of their cows.

He concluded by reiterating the importance of creating a comfortable environment for the cow throughout the whole period and including a deep bed with plenty of straw and access to water.

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