Failing to ensure that your transition cows receive sufficient energy will lead to issues later on in lactation — and beyond — warns SWFC’s Tom Tolputt
I remember a study conducted by Kingshay Farming into transition cow management in the early 2000s which found that farms that had adopted a separate transition cow management strategy were benefitting from reduced time to conception (12 days), increased milk production (342 litres) and an overall reduced cell count.
While things have moved on since then, the fact remains that many UK dairy herds still do not have a separate transition cow group – and some that do are not feeding the right energy balance, leading to problems with health, production, fertility and longevity.
Transition cow management
All too often I am confronted with early lactation cows who were simply not fed enough during late lactation. This is manifested by cows who seem lethargic, retain placenta or show whites after calving. I believe this problem can be traced back to the time when farmers were being widely encouraged to use straw as the main forage ingredient in some dry cow rations.
In some cases, it can be a very simple fix: I’ve been to a farm where 20 cows were given just four spaces to feed. By simply opening up the feed area — and allowing them to all eat at the same time — we have transformed these pre-calving cows. But in other cases, things can be a bit more complicated, requiring dietary changes to achieve an appropriate energy intake — and the advice of a qualified nutritionist, feed advisor or vet.
As a cow nears the birth of her calf, her intake can drop by 2-3 kg of dry matter (DM)—just at a time when she needs a massive amount of energy and nutrients to help propel the calf into the world and produce colostrum for the newborn calf. Combine this with the shortening day length in autumn (further reducing potential intakes) and the drop in the nutritional density of the grass, and a cow might well be utilizing her own body fat reserves to maintain her metabolism.
Source: Agriking Ltd. Note how the calorie requirement rises in the transition cow diet
This can obviously have a dramatic effect on the cows’ health, production and subsequent fertility. It can also depress the cows’ ability to calve quickly and adjust to milk production. This can further increase the energy gap post-calving, leading to lost production and greater fertility issues.
Where cows are being fed a diet to reduce the intake of autumn grass, care must be taken to balance this impact. I believe we should aim for at least 110-120 MJs of ME and to achieve this on autumn grazing with straw may well take 2kg of concentrate to achieve balance. Where possible, I find that adding the concentrate as a top dress or directly on to the forage will mean that cows closest to calving will still receive the right balance. This also gives you the chance to observe the cows and ensure they are receiving the concentrate.
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In summary, if you are experiencing problems with autumn calving cows then please consult your feed advisor, vet or a nutritionist. Very often it can be a simple fix. But failing to ensure that your transition cows receive sufficient energy will undoubtedly lead to issues later on in lactation—and beyond.
If you would like to discuss the transition cow management — or any nutritional issues — please do not hesitate to get in touch. We’ll do our best to help. Call for a no-obligation chat on 01503 220002 or send us a message on our Contact Page.