Calf shed ad­vice

Vet­eri­nary tips on de­sign­ing a house calves can thrive in

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COMMENT - Brian Reidy

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.

Diet re­quire­ment

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

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...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.