What should I look for in a dairy ration?

Freshly calved dairy cows require a high level of energy, protein and minerals in their diet. Feed intake will be low just after calving so it is important that feed offered is of high quality.

Total daily intake will be around 11-12kg in the days after calving, rising steadily by 1.0 to 1.2kg per week for around one month after calving and by 0.5kg per week after that until peak at eight to 10 weeks post calving.

Dr. Joe Patton, a dairy specialist with Teagasc, outlined what you should look for in a dairy ration for spring-calving cows.

When selecting a dairy ration for the spring period it should have a high energy (UFL) content and good quality protein source.

Ingredient make-up:
  • Cereal 1/3;
  • Digestible fibre 1/3;
  • Protein sources 1/3.

This could be maize/hulls/distillers or barley / beet pulp / distillers

Depending on accessibility or availability of grass on the farm may require different levels of crude protein (CP) to be fed.

Joe recommends that a 14% CP ration is suitable for a herd that usually gets a high inclusion of grass in the first rotation. This is suitable for a herd that is grazing twice a day when weather is suitable.

Whereas, a 16% CP ration may be more relevant for herds that may feed silage for longer. This may include farms that are on heavier soils or where grazing is limited to once a day.

Reducing crude protein content results is a better balance of energy and protein in grazing rations. With high soya prices this year, it is also a means of reducing cost per tonne fed.

Nonetheless, the protein source should be of good quality.

Minerals

It is also important that minerals are present in any ration for early lactation cows, the ration should include a trace element pack; calcium; phosphorus (P); and salt.

Where a history of copper mineral issues and/or mineral antagonists (Cu:Molybdenum ratio <1.5, Sulphur >0.3%) have been identified, up to 30% of total copper should be included as a more bioavailable (organic) form.

Cal Mag inclusion will be to achieve 60g of total intake. Up to 1.7 times this can be fed over short periods without causing scours.

For example, a 3kg nut could be fed at 5kg for a few days if cows had to be housed.