Under-nourished or overfed dry cows won’t deliver the required performance
The main suckler calving season is almost upon us, and plenty of things need to be done right in order to achieve a successful calving season next spring. Nutrition management, mineral supplementation, appropriate housing, health monitoring and parasite control all need to be addressed. In both beef and dairy herds, management of the dry cow is critical in achieving a successful calving event. Under-nourished cows during the dry period won’t have enough energy to function after calving. Over-fed cows during the dry period will often have calving difficulties and associated metabolic disorders after calving.
What are you trying to achieve in your dry suckler cow management? Produce a healthy calf without complications during the birth.
Expel the cleaning quickly after calving. Calve down without having metabolic disorders such as retained afterbirth, ketosis, milk fever, displaced abomasum.
Providing quality colostrum for the new born calf. Provide sufficient milk of good quality to rear the calf. Optimise grazed grass utilisation while rearing the calf.
Go back in calf in a timely manner.
It is all about getting as many of these things right as is possible. Establish the animal’s requirements first.
What are the cow’s requirements for maintenance, calf growth and mammary development during the dry period? What is her current body condition like?
Are cows over-conditioned Is there huge variations in the condition of the herd? Do you need cows to gain some condition?
Do heifers need to grow more before calving (time is running out to do this)?
Do you have accurate calving dates? Knowing approximate calving dates make it easier to group and feed dry cows appropriately.
Dry cow nutrition
Once you have established what the dry cow wants, you must then establish the most effective way of delivering these requirements to her.
It is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of 2018 grass silages are quite low in crude protein.
This must be taken into consideration when doing any feed plan for cows. What feeds are on your farm? Controlled feeding of straw is a great way of keeping body condition correct. Is there sufficient forage in stock? What feeds are available locally? What is the quality of any available feed? Is silage palatable? Is it wet or dry? Is dry silage safe to feed to dry cows (many dry silages are mouldy this year!) How well has it preserved? Do you actually have a silage test result? What is the protein content?
What feeding system do you have on farm (free access to silage, or diet feeding)? Can all dry cows eat at the one time?
Are cows grouped according to calving date and/or body condition?
What issues did you encounter around calving in the last calving season (look back at your records)?
All of the above issues have huge bearings on whether you can achieve the required performance consistently for the majority of cows in the herd. How you feed dry cows will also have a large influence on how they will perform and digest their feed after calving. Remember, you want these cows to produce quality milk cheaply from grazed grass, to maximise weanling weight.
Many will over-simplify mineral supplementation for dry suckler cows.
It is not uncommon to come across suckler herdowners that don’t supply minerals at all to dry cows.
Many herds now get a bolus in the dry period as their means of mineral supplementation, and this has proved to work very well on many farms.
I would suggest, given the silage mineral profiles this year, that additional mineral supplementation beyond a bolus would be a good idea. Laboratory mineral results for silage are telling me that many of the mineral elements required by cows are lower in silage samples, while the antagonists such as iron, aluminium, lead and molybdenum are at very high levels, above the norm.
In other words, by all means use a bolus, but in conjunction with a good quality bag mineral that supplies additional macro minerals and vitamins.
Parasite control in sucklers
Sucklers should be treated for internal and external parasites soon after housing. This will help with body condition improvement or maintenance, while improving feed utilisation. Parasites, if untreated, dramatically reduce animal performance, and make the goals outlined above surrounding the calving event more difficult to achieve.
Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at [email protected]
Clive Buttimer, Ahaliskey, Ballinascarthy, is one of nine Co Cork farmers shortlisted for Bord Bia’s Origin Green Farmer Awards which recognise and reward exceptional performance achieved by members of its Sustainable Quality Assurance schemes for beef, horticulture and dairy. Clive has been nominated in the weanling store to beef category. He has benefitted from years of experience and help from his father Herbert on the family’s beef and tillage farm.