Un­der-nour­ished or overfed dry cows won’t de­liver the re­quired per­for­mance

Irish Examiner - Farming - - BEEF SECTOR - Brian Reidy

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.

Min­eral sup­ple­men­ta­tion

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]

Pic­ture: Ger­ard Mccarthy

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.

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