AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

As cows are beginning to calve on farms and the Christmas holidays are ending, it is time to turn your attention to managing freshly calved cows this spring.

The time for preparation is almost over, and our pre-season will determine our future success. We are facing into the first round of the championship with no back door, so we need to hit the ground running.

Dry matter intake

Dry matter intake (DMI) is probably one of the most critical measurements post-calving, but only some of us actually measure it.

We all talk about milk yield and percentage and kilograms of milk solids, but we know that after six weeks of milking, even the very best of these figures can come crashing down if we do not measure, monitor and maximise DMI.

Getting the cows’ DMI back up to 18–20kg, and more, as quickly as possible, will minimise body condition loss, which, along with DMI, is another important management factor.

All cows will lose condition post-calving, and how much they lose will determine success or failure, not only on production but also on health and fertility. It takes more energy to put on condition than you gain from losing it, so if it is fluctuating, that can be a significant cost in the system.

Factors behind good intake

We are told that this loss of energy or condition is negative energy balance, which is a major problem. But, because this issue turns body fat into milk solids, we tend to turn a blind eye to it until it is too late.

During the dry cow period, cows will go from eating 11–12kg DMI per day to now requiring 18–20kg of DM within 24–48 hours.

While peak milk yield will not happen for six weeks, probably within seven days cows will be producing 90–95% of this peak yield, so the shortfall of energy in and out will be substantial.

Some of the crucial factors for achieving good intake would be the following:
  • Feeding the best quality silage and, ideally, more than 70 DMD to the fresh calvers will be required;
  • Make sure cows have adequate access to clean/unspoiled feed and water;
  • A fresh cow group, especially for heifers, while difficult to accommodate on some farms, would generate significant dividends;
  • Quantity is sometimes more important than quality and feeding the required level of concentrate is essential. Below is a guide to concentrate feeding based on 67 DMD silage and can be reduced for higher quality forages:
    • 0.33kg/L of milk in full time;
    • 0.22kg/L of milk out by day; and
    • 0.11kg/L of milk out full time.
  • Reduce the level of protein in the diet, especially the concentrate feed, to reduce ‘pushing’ cows at the expense of body condition and also reduce the possibility of protein waste to the environment;
  • If some are lucky to get to grass, make sure availability is sufficient. Ideally, cows should first have 24–48 hours inside to maximise intake; and
  • For cows that have had an issue, or that are struggling for intake condition, once a day (OAD) milk could be an option. 

Healthy rumen

Maintaining a healthy rumen is also an important factor as we try to push intakes and concentrate levels in the transition period. Some cows can be tipped over the edge, so to speak, by not looking after rumen health.

Areas that we should address when it comes to this would be the following:
  • The inclusion of a small amount of chopped straw in the diet will help keep the rumen functioning safely and slow down the rate of passage of lush and starchy feeds;
  • Having some concentrates in the dry cow diet will allow cows to digest it better post-calving and allow for a quicker inclusion; and
  • Adjust cows up slowly if feeding all the concentrate through the parlour.

Adequate minerals

Also, make sure you have adequate levels of minerals, as there are many included in the ration.

Post-calving is a time where we adjust this up slowly, meaning we are under-feeding minerals to our fresh cows that have undergone a major upheaval and have a significant demand for minerals.

When it comes to minerals, quality trumps quantity, and the use of organic minerals such as Bioplex® and Sel-Plex® will play a huge role in production, health, immune system and fertility post-calving. We should use all possible help to give cows the best possible start, so these should be contained within our minerals and concentrates.

As there is a lot of muscle movement around calving and colostrum contains a high level of calcium (Ca), using some additional Ca or limestone post-calving would be advantageous to fulfill the cow’s needs.

Also, issues like milk fever 6–48 hours post-calving can be caused by a shear lack of Ca in the diet.

Spring grass

It is important to complete a spring rotational planner (SRP) for your grass when you have an opportunity. This will also make sure that there is enough grass available for the cows, while at the same time maintaining quality into the mid-season.

Using your early lactation diet to fit into this rotational planner will allow you to focus on crucial measurements (e.g. DMI).

Maximise grass intake and utilisation where possible, but also know its limitations based on your cow type, system and stocking rate.

For those that are not measuring or budgeting grass, it would be, at a minimum, important to understand how much grass is available to be eaten in the paddock tomorrow.

If we know what their overall intake is, and we know how much grass is available, then we should know how much to supplement our herd with.

It is also important to realise that grass silage is poorer in quality than grazed grass, and when cows must come in for a day or night due to bad weather, etc, we increase the level of concentrate to make up the shortfall.

Further Information

AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

Part 1: The importance of a successful dry cow programme

Part 2: Mineral nutrition: Getting it right this dry cow period

Part 3: The importance of an ideal body condition score for dry cows

Part 4: The key principles of dry cow nutrition

Part 5: Management tips for the dry cow period

Part 6: Are mycotoxins dangerous for dairy cows?

Part 7: Managing for success: Late gestation into calving

For more information on the Alltech dry cow action plan, call Alltech on: 059-910-1320 to get in touch with an Alltech representative; or click here