Calf shed advice
Veterinary tips on designing a house calves can thrive in
Has there ever been a more challenging winter and spring for livestock farmers? It hardly stopped raining since August, most herds are early six months indoors. Fodder stocks are disappearing rapidly and options for feeding stock are becoming limited. Some had no choice but to let animals out and accept they will do damage. Animal welfare is very important to farmers, and many of them must review their stock numbers, facilities and forage production. The welfare of the farmer and those around him of her must also be considered, many are very stressed now, working very hard to keep stock fed and content. This disastrous winter/ spring has many knock-on effects.
Feed reserves will be gone on most farms, and will take a few years to rebuild. Many are now considering their options for next winter, and are looking at alternatives to grass silage.
Maize, whole crop, and beet will be included in many herds’ diets next winter. Feed bills have mounted up as stock have been in on many farms since October. Many farms do not have sufficient cubicle space for cows, having banked on early turnout to grass before all their cows had calved. This is not sustainable long term; facilities have to be built or stock numbers reduced. Animal performance has been compromised by feeding some very poor quality purchased silages. Milk yields and solids are disappointing around the country where no grass was available to cows on low energy diets. Breeding heifers in particular need some TLC before insemination commences.
“Milk yields and solids are disappointing around the country where no grass was available to cows on low energy diets
Breeding season 2018
With calving almost complete in the spring herd, it is now important to implement the correct feeding strategy. Feeding milkers at grass has a huge bearing on subsequent herd fertility. To have a successful breeding season in any herd, presenting as many cows as possible for insemination is vital, meaning they must be free of infection and in a positive energy status What goals should you set for your herd? Maximise grass utilisation. Feed cows to their nutritional requirements. Realise cows’ genetic potential.
Improve fertility and cow health.
Optimise milk value. Improve overall herd
Nutrition and reproductive performance
Energy is the major nutrient required by milking cows; inadequate energy intake has a negative impact on reproduction. Postpartum anoestrus is magnified by losses of body condition during early lactation.
Differences among cows in the severity of negative energy balance are more related to how much energy they consume than to how much milk they produce.
Cows partition their feed in many directions before they contribute energy to reproduction.
The hierarchy of energy use by a cow starts with body functions; then growing herself (first calvers; fighting disease; producing milk; milk quality; and maintaining or increasing body condition; before energy use goes to reproduction.
Cows require 65 to 70 megajoules (MJ) of energy for maintenance and 5 to 5.2 MJ per kg of milk being produced. High performing cows (30L +) require energy densities of between 11.5 and 12.0 MJ/Kg of dry matter. Grazed grass of good quality will have this ME close to 12 for most of the season. A total ration dry matter crude protein content is needed of 16-18% (depending on yield).
Cows producing 30 litres plus will need to consume 18-20kg of dry matter. Achieving 15-18kg of DM from grazed grass should be targeted, and the additional kgs of DM must then come from supplementation indoors, usually concentrates in the parlour, also as a foragebased buffer feed including maize or whole crop.
Right inputs at right time
Energy: starch and sugar fuel the cow’s rumen and microbial protein production. They also determine the blood sugar production in the rumen. Too little will result in ketosis, low yields, and poor milk quality
Grass is high in sugars, and is the main driver of milk production and milk protein. Too much starch and sugars will induce acidosis in the herd. Fibre promotes rumen stability and encourages dry matter intake (the optimum early lactation NDF is over 34% (over 30% in a TMR). Efficient digestion of fibre drives butter fat production. Oils and fats are essential in the cow diet for energy den-
sity. But too much oils/fats fed at grass will coat fibre, and depress butter fats.
A cow’s milk protein production/percentage is an indicator of their energy status/ intake. The protein percentage in a milk collection is an indication of the herd’s energy status (of seven to 10 days ago, not the previous day or two).
Protein in a cow’s diet drives intake and nutrientu ti lisati on. Rumen degradable protein is used in the rumen and converted to high quality microbial protein. Bypass protein skips the rumen and feeds the animal direct in the intestines. Higher yielders require more bypass protein.
Once cows have sufficient grazed grass available to them, very little protein supplementation is required. Grazed grass at the height of the growing season has a protein content of 20-30%, depending on soil fertility, sward age and nitrogen usage. Dairy farmers really need to stop buying their ration based on its protein content, and start buying it based on its energy content. Change the conversation you have with your feed supplier to an energy discussion!
Minerals and trace elements
When achieving higher yields, you must get mineral levels right. Request a mineral pack in your concentrates aimed at improving fertility performance.
Feeding early lactation milkers
Dry Matter Intake: DMI must be measured and related back to requirements based on animal performance; it impacts on yield, health, fertility, milk quality and feed costs.
Body condition score: Excess BCS loss (more than 0.5) after calving means depressed milk yield, lower fertility, poor milk quality, and increased risk of metabolic disorders such as ketosis and fatty liver.
Rumen stability: has a role to play in fertility, as it affects DMI and energy utilisation. Laminitis due to acidosis results in sole ulcers and white line disease, which in turn cause poor feed intakes. Increased levels of displaced abomasums are also associated with poor rumen function/instability.
The optimum rumen pH is 6-6.5. Provision of fibre will result in a more stable rumen, by encouraging cows to chew the cud.
Water at grass
Cow requires five litres of water per litre of milk produced. Ensure that the water source is clean. Water trough management should include regular cleaning. Trough size must be appropriate for the herd size. On many farms where expansion has occurred, the water network isn’t yet updated. Troughs in paddocks are still the same size as when 50% fewer cows were on the farm, and troughs don’t fill fast enough because pipes leading to them are too small. If a cow doesn’t drink, she doesn’t eat. If she doesn’t eat, she doesn’t milk.
Evaluate your cow’s diet
Milk: don’t just look at average yield. Monitor individual fresh calve rs, especially heifers. Watch for cows/ heifers with erratic yields from day to day in early lactation.
Milk quality: a drop in milk protein indicates cows are losing body condition. Drops in butter fat indicate poor fibre digestion.
Milk urea level information is very useful, if provided by your co-op. Dung consistency.
Cud chewing activity (watch for cud balls etc) Incidence of metabolic disorders.
Rumen fill Nutrition is an essential part of any dairy herd and getting it wrong can be costly. Avoiding imbalances of energy and protein will ensure efficient utilisation and production and maintain animal health and fertility. Assessing how effective your feed strategy is should be done regularly, using some of the above indicators, and the necessary changes made. Under-supply of energy has been shown to have a negative impact on fertility, and should be minimised.
Many things can disable what is a good diet on paper. Issues like environment, water, forage management must get attention.
Your cows talk to you each day through their performance, demeanour, and health status; don’t ignore them.
Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at email@example.com
Owner-breeder John O’Callaghan, Bandon, with his Kilkenny Agricultural Society Bull Show champion, Mountfarna Mars 4, with Noel Hennessy who judged the show. At last week’s IHFA Premier Bull Sale in Nenagh, O’Callaghan showed the champ, Mountfarna...