Successful Dry Period is Critical by Chestnutt Animal Feeds
Thinking about a cow’s nutrition, after the cow has calved, is like starting to dig a well when you’re thirsty. CHESTNUTT ANIMAL FEEDS believe that the dry cow period should be approached by the farmer and nutritionist with the same attention and motivation that is applied to any other stage of lactation. At Chestnutt’s we have taken the time to carefully formulate a dry cow ration, and study the management strategies that will get your dry cows “fully charged”, and ready to milk throughout their subsequent lactation.
The majority of this seasons forage has now been ensiled after what has been an extremely challenging summer for a range of reasons including challenging weather conditions, falling milk prices and rising input costs. The challenging weather conditions have resulted in a wide range of silage qualities. At Chestnutts so far this year we have observed energy levels in first cut silages ranging from 9.3ME to 12.1ME, and dry matters as low as 15.1%!
Not only has the weather left variable silage qualities, but it has resulted in extremely variable intakes and inconsistencies for grazing cows. Currently general observations at farm level would suggest that later lactation cows are ok for condition, however cows that have had higher yields in the summer period are particularly thin and it is essential these cows are not allowed to complete their lactation like this. The late lactation period is the correct time to make body condition score alterations to your cows, try to get the majority of cows into the optimum body condition score of 2.75-3. If a cow is in a BCS of 2.5 three months before drying off, by feeding her 2kg of concentrate above the level required for production, for the last 2-3months of lactation you should be able to increase the condition to 3 by the time she is dried off. Likewise reduce feed intake to an over fat cow in late lactation. If condition score is less than 2.5 you will need to be starting to overfeed more than 3 months in advance, highlighting the importance of regular body condition assessment.
It is well documented that the ideal dry period is in the region of 60 days. All this time is required for the cow to first of all “Dry off”, and then gives the cow sufficient time for the milk secreting cells to renew themselves which is essential for milk production in the forthcoming lactation. A 4 week dry period will result in a 10% loss in milk production, and an extended dry period will leave the cow at risk of getting too fat, and more prone to difficult calving and metabolic disorders post calving.
The dry period is the ideal time to recondition your cow’s feet. Foot trimming when drying off can help reduce lameness in the fresh cow period and helps reduce problems associated with horn overgrowth, such as sole ulcers. It is important not to forget about footbathing your dry cows as well. This year has also seen a significant fluke and worm burden, so it is vital you consult your vet about treatments in the dry period. Liver fluke will reduce liver function, which is responsible for energy metabolism, and if it is not functioning correctly will result in lower yields, lower milk components and reduced fertility.
When dry cow nutrition is correct, and management is good the majority of cows will calve, and move into the milking herd with minimal stress to cow and farmer. Any complication at the time of calving such as milk fever, retained placenta, displaced abomasums or ketosis, will almost always have a knock on effect on production and fertility. It is therefore essential that the dry cows are not left getting the poorest quality silage on the farm, or left over’s from other groups of cows. In the first half of the dry period, average silage, or silage and straw will generally meet the energy requirements of the far off dry cow. However it is essential silage is dry and palatable to maintain intakes and rumen health and fill.
In the last 3 weeks before calving things change. The cow’s dry matter intakes decrease due to calf development, and a more energy dense ration is required. Supplementation with concentrate is definitely vital at this stage; however forage type and quality is even more important. Generally dry cows are supplemented with 2-3kg of concentrate, but 80-90% of their dry matter intakes still consist of forage, therefore forage is key! Silage that is dry, palatable and stemmy is the most suitable silage. If this is not available then good quality silage diluted with straw, or straw and wholecrop will generally work. By using straw, or stemmier silage the potash content of the ration is lowered and milk fever will be less of an issue. The high starch level in the Pre calver blend, along with the inclusion of actisaf live yeast, help to prepare the rumen and its bug population for a smoother transition onto the milking cow ration. This reduces risk of acidosis and secondary issues that may occur such as displaced abomasums.
With many stressors on the dry cow around the time of calving it is essential immune status is boosted with the minerals throughout the whole of the dry period. The precalver range has a mineral pack designed to boost immune status with sources of chelated copper, zinc and selenium. Also included are liver conditioners to minimise the risk of ketosis, and anionic salts to help reduce incidences of milk fever.
At chestnutts we recognise that individual farms have alternative dry cow facilities and feeding strategies. We believe on farm assessment of dry cows is paramount, coupled with the use of the latest industry feeding models we can produce a tailored solution. If you would like advice on dry cow nutrition, contact Chestnutts on 028 2074 1354 or David Dunlop on 07703681256.
Chestnutt Animal FeedsLtd, 55 Main Street, Stranocum, Ballymoney, Co Antrim.