Feeding dry cows a high forage, low energy diet leads to significant reductions in health problems, and can result in savings of £87/cow.
Results from a six month survey of 45 farms feeding up to 5kg of straw in dry cow rations show it can reduce retained cleansings by 73%, compared with incidence before the new rations were introduced.
Keenan nutritionist Mark Voss told Farmers Weekly that feeding these rations meant cows were better able to make use of milking rations post calving.
“Keeping the rumen full and active during the dry period means it is able to deal with the large quantity of food offered after calving.”
USA-based nutritionist James Drackley of the University of Illinois says a similar approach to dry cow nutrition in American herds has yielded equally good results, with farmers reporting significant reductions in incidences of displaced abomasums and ketosis.
“The key to this programme is to have all dry cows on the same ration for all of the dry period.
“Feeding this low energy ration reduces the amount of internal fat, reducing the likelihood of fatty liver syndrome which is a factor in metabolic disorders.”
Both Mr Voss and Prof Drackley believe nutritional developments have failed to keep pace with genetic improvements in dairy cattle in recent years.
Prof Drackley says persistency in late lactation also improves in USA herds where these rations are fed.
“One 3600-cow herd with cows giving 42 litres a day only sees a 5.5% monthly reduction in yields towards the end of lactation, whereas the USA average is about 10%.
Cows are still giving about 30 litres/day when dried off.”
Commenting on the health improvements seen in UK herds Mr Voss says herds have also seen improved fertility, with 19% reporting significantly improved bulling strength and 53% saying conception rate had improved, while 47% said calving interval had also improved.