Why late pregnancy management of suckler cows is crucial
Spring calving suckler cows are now in mid or late pregnancy, so pre-calving management and preparing for calving is crucial in reducing problems at calving time.
Farmers are advised to consider the pen space, body condition score (BCS), feed and vaccinations required by pregnant suckler cows that are near calving.
As pregnancy progresses, the space required by suckler cows increases.
If your pens are overstocked, cow performance will suffer, due to restricted movement in pens which reduces free access to forage. If feeding concentrates, make sure all cows can eat at the barrier together.
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 concentrates.
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 too 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
- 72 DMD Feed restricted access silage (80% of requirements).
- 65 DMD Feed silage ad lib.
- 60 DMD Feed silage ad lib + 0.5kg to 1.0 kg concentrates.
- 55 DMD Feed silage ad lib + 1.0 kg concentrates.
- Feed 1kg extra below these amounts for thin cows.
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, ensure to cover all the stock in the shed.
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 100g 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 one to three 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.