Dairygold 2014-2015 Dry Cow Nutrition Programme

The most stressful time for your cows is around calving with over 50% of dairy cow metabolic problems occurring within three weeks of calving. Proper dry cow management and preparation for this period of stress is critical.


Building a successful dry period
Your goal in the dry period is to produce a herd of healthy milking cows with minimal metabolic issues and a strong healthy calf. To achieve this target, you need to build from the bottom up as shown in the image below.


FOUNDATION-Correct Body Condition Score (BCS) at Calving
Without a strong foundation, your dry cow programme has little chance of success. Calving your herd down in the correct BCS (individual cow range 3.03.25) delivers this sound foundation; with proven benefits for fertility, milk yield and cow health (reduced metabolic problems e.g. milk fever). 

Target BCS at Calving
≤2.75 Increasing risk of depressed milk yield and difficulty getting back in calf
3.03.25 Target/Optimum
≥3.5 Increasing risk of difficult calving, milk fever and knock-on effects

BCS at calving depends on:
1. BCS when dried off
2. Length of dry period
3. Quantity and quality of feed


See http://www.agritrading.ie/Body-Conditioning-Scoring-BCS-Guide for details on how to Body Condition Score your herd


Risk of FAT Cows Calving Down in 2015

If you decide to dry cows off early due to quota, there is a danger that cows in good condition will become too fat if given an extended dry period, particularly if silage is of good quality.

Dry cow feeding recommendations
Where a ‘normal’, 9 week dry period is planned, ideally cows should be dried off in the BCS that you want them to calve down in.  Don’t make assumptions; BCS your cows and get your silage tested (request the specialist Dairygold dry cow silage analysis). A four unit DMD difference in silage quality is the equivalent of +/-1Kg of concentrates per head per day.

To achieve the target/optimum BCS at calving, you need to act on the results. In practise divide cows by BCS into two, or a maximum of three groups:
1. Cows that require supplementary feeding (feed circa 2Kg per head per day)
2. Cows that receive ad-lib silage only
3. If necessary (if you have cows in good condition that will be dry for over 10 weeks and/or are being fed good quality silage) cows that are fed a restricted quantity of silage.

Regular condition scoring (circa every two weeks) will then allow individual cows to be switched between groups as appropriate e.g. if a cow is in group 1 gains enough condition she can be switched to group 2.

Influence of BCS at drying off, dry period length and silage quality on feeding recommendations for dry cows to achieve a target of 3.03.25 Body Condition Score (BCS) at calving

*These cows are likely to calve down below the optimum BCS range
** These cows are likely to calve down above the optimum BCS range

Key point
Cow BCS, dry period length and Silage DMD (feeding value) should dictate your dry cow feeding strategy.

LEVEL 1-Macro Mineral/Calcium Status
Your cows must produce large quantities of Calcium for milk production

When a cow calves, she has a huge requirement for Calcium (major constituent of milk) and she needs to be efficient at mobilising and absorbing Calcium or milk fever can result.  Milk fever is of critical importance because:
1. Clinical cases of milk fever are merely the tip of the iceberg, for every clinical case there are numerous sub-clinical cases that are never diagnosed on farm. In addition, if one of your cows has milk fever this year they are much more likely to have a problem with milk fever next year.
2. Cows that have suffered from milk fever (both clinical and sub-clinical) are much more likely to suffer from a wide range of other metabolic problems such as retained cleanings, displaced abomasums, ketosis, mastitis, metritis and reduced fertility.

Key point: The main focus of minerals in the dry period should be macro minerals and in particular Calcium status.

Want to know more about milk fever, its importance and how to prevent it? See http://www.agritrading.ie/Milk-Fever

There are a number of potential strategies to prevent milk fever and related problems.  Dairygold focuses on three:
1. Ensuring cows are in the correct BCS at calving (foundation dry cow nutrition).
2. Feed 25g+/head/day Magnesium (Mg) as part of your dry cow mineral.  Mg intake is vital as it is required for mobilisation and absorption of Calcium. 
3. Minimise the level of Potassium (K) in the dry cow diet.  Potassium interferes with the absorption of Mg.  Grass and grass silage tend to be relatively high in K and this is one of the reasons for requiring high rates of Mg in dry cow diets (to overcome high K levels).  However where very high rates of K are present in silages, it may be necessary to dilute with straw or another low K silage. For this reason, Dairygold recommends our specialist Dry Cow Silage Analysis for any silage to be fed to your dry cows which gives a K result for your silage in addition to the standard results.

Analysis of silage for dry cows should include Potassium

See http://www.agritrading.ie/Silage-Sampling for more details on the importance of, and how to take silage samples.

LEVEL 2-Trace elements and antioxidants
Trace elements and antioxidants are required to prepare your cows’ defences against diseases in lactation and ensure a healthy calf is born.  Forage Analysis has consistently shown that most grass and grass silage in the Dairygold catchment area are deficient in Selenium, Iodine, Zinc and Copper. 

Levels of Selenium, Iodine, Copper and Zinc are consistently low in grass silage samples in the Dairygold region.

We recommend feeding high levels of these trace elements with a large portion of the Selenium, Zinc and Copper in the organic form (stored in the cow’s body and held in its reserves until required and not lost through excretion like inorganic forms), along with high levels of vitamins (in particular the key antioxidant Vitamin E). 

LEVEL 3-Transition cow feeding
In the last 2-3 weeks before calving a cow’s feed intake drops as the size of the calf grows restricting rumen size and a cow can enter negative energy balance where energy intakes are not matching energy requirements.  This is illustrated in the graph below.


We recommend feeding 2Kg/head/day of TRANSITION GOLD to all cows regardless of BCS for the final three weeks of calving instead of Precalver Gold/Precalver Gold Cube to address this problem. 
Key point: A cow’s feed intake drops dramatically in the final 2-3 weeks before calving.  Dairygold recommends feeding Transition GOLD to fill this gap. 

Choosing a dry cow mineral for your farm
Start feeding dry cow minerals a minimum of six and preferably eight weeks prior to calving.

• Fixed rate feeding of well-balanced minerals is the cheapest and best way to guarantee an adequate mineral supply.  This can be done by
1. Powdered minerals-divide the allowance into two parts and top-dressed evenly over silage twice a day (allows all animal the opportunity to take in the correct allowance of minerals) or as part of a TMR. 
2. Including the correct daily allowance in concentrates (where BCS is below target) 
• Other options
-Liquids, boluses etc. are useful where options one and two are impractical but inferior due to limited specification i.e. limited content of macro minerals, no vitamins, no organic minerals etc.
-Free access supplementation (e.g. mineral buckets and licks) is not as reliable as fixed rate feeding as there is variation in intake between animals and should only be used where it is impractical to use fixed rate feeding. 

What product?
We recommend Precalver GOLD (or Precalver GOLD cube where BCS is below target)-as it has been specifically formulated for the needs of Dairygold milk suppliers and will deliver ALL the required vitamins and minerals in 95%+ of cases when fed at 120g (or 2Kg Precalver GOLD cube) per head per day for a minimum of six weeks pre calving.

Why 120g per head per day?
Trace elements, as the name suggests, are only required in small quantities by your cows. In the table above all the trace element are listed in mg/Kg and 1,000 mg/Kg is the equivalent of 0.1%. Therefore, all the trace elements (and vitamins) can be covered in a low feeding rate.

Macro minerals, again as the name suggests, are required in relatively large quantities and are expressed in percentages. To highlight this compare the levels of two macro minerals (Magnesium and Phosphorus) and two trace elements in precalver GOLD when expressed on the same scale in the chart below.

Quantity of different macro minerals and trace elements in Precalver GOLD expressed in g per Kg

As previously outlined, Magnesium (Mg) intake is vital as it is required for mobilisation and absorption of Calcium which is critical for the prevention of milk fever and associated problems in your cows. The target is to feed 25g+/head/day Mg as part of your dry cow mineral.  Ensure the dry cow mineral you feed achieves this standard.  The table below shows how the percentage of Mg and the feeding level influences the quantity of Mg actually fed to cows on farm.

Influence of feeding rate and % Magnesium on the level of cow intake of Magnesium

Dairygold Precalver Dry Cow Programme

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