Unlock The Full Potential For The Next Lactation
20th August 2020

Laura McConnell, Fane Valley Feeds - Ruminant Nutritionist

80% of early lactation problems can be related back to the dry period, therefore providing the correct feeding, management and provision of a stress free environment during this stage is essential.

In reality, there is a wide variation in dry cow management strategies adopted on farm, therefore there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Whatever the management system, the following points should be considered non – negotiables in terms of dry cow nutrition:  

Optimising Dry Matter Intake

Dry cows will eat approximately 1.8 – 2.0% of their bodyweight in Dry Matter Intake (DMI), so a 650kg cow should be expected to eat 11.8 – 13.0kg DMI, declining by up to 30% at the point of calving. Maximising her intake capacity during the dry period will have a positive impact on her DMI after calving, therefore reducing the severity of negative energy balance in early lactation. 

DMI is largely affected by body condition score (BCS). Cows that are dried off with a condition score of over 3.25 or gain weight during the dry period will have sub-optimal intakes prior to calving. Over conditioned cows are more at risk of milk fever, fatty liver and ketosis as well as experiencing a greater negative energy balance.

Keys ways to optimise DMI:

  • Fresh feed daily & regularly pushed up 
  • Palatable, consistent TMR 
  • Limit sorting – TMR dry matter, well chopped forage
  • Adequate feed space (0.85 – 1.00m) of trough space per cow
  • Clean fresh water available 
  • Lame cows will also have suppressed intakes 

Controlling Energy Intake

Overfeeding dry cows can be more detrimental than slightly underfeeding. It is important to ensure that cows maintain BCS and do not gain or lose condition prior to calving. Providing a ration with an energy density of 9-10 MJ ME/kg DM is sufficient. This equates to approximately 10kgDM of a 10 ME silage along with 2kg of a dry cow feed. Feeding 2 – 3kg/h/d of straw can dilute the energy density of the diet and also improve rumen fill. 

Preventing Milk Fever

Incidence of sub clinical milk fever can be as high as 50% within a dairy cow herd, at a cost of 1p/litre of milk. Calcium plays a vital role in muscle and immune function, therefore problems such as retained cleanings, displaced abomasums and mastitis in early lactation can often be linked back to sub optimal blood calcium levels (1.4  - 2.0 mmol/L) at the point of calving. 

There are several nutritional strategies, which can be implemented to prevent the incidence of milk fever. 

Some key points for consideration: 

  • Conduct a mineral analysis on dry cow forage. 
  • High potassium forages (> 2.4%) should be avoided or at least diluted with straw or an alternative forage such as whole crop or maize, which is naturally low in potassium. 
  • Ensure magnesium supplementation is adequate  - 0.4%/ kg DM
  • Total dietary calcium should be less than 30g/h/day
  • Supplementing with magnesium chloride or anionic salts can help to achieve a ‘partial DCAB’ diet.

Fane Valley Dry Cow Primer 

Benefits of feeding Fane Valley Dry Cow Primer for 4 weeks Pre calving at a rate of 2kg/h/day:

  • 24% crude protein with very high inclusion of soya providing elevated levels of bypass protein.
  • Elite Mineral Spec – High levels of Vitamin E and selenium to support immunity.
  • ActiSaf – triple rate inclusion to maximize rumen function and fibre digestion.
  • Safmannan – supports the cow’s immune system and increases immunoglobulin concentration in colostrum.
  • Magnesium Chloride – inclusion of anionic salts to achieve a ‘partial DCAB’ diet, and reduce the incidence of milk fever and with retained placentas. 

If you would like to know more about Fane Valley Feeds Dry Cow Primer Nuts and options for managing the nutrient intake of dry cows, please contact your local Fane Valley Feeds Sales Representative or Laura McConnell on 07976723099.