13 August 1999

Dry cow strategy advice

GET management of a dry cow right and her lactation will go well; get it wrong and she will struggle. But good dry cow management doesnt mean putting her in a field and forgetting her for six weeks.

Thats the advice Axient nutritionist Diana Allen gave visitors to an open day at John Helliars High House Farm, Warminster, Wilts.

Dry cow nutrition neednt be complicated. Follow simple objectives, she advised.

Start by drying cows off in the right condition at a score of 3-3.5. Ideally that means checking body condition five times a year (see box).

She admits it is difficult to see changes in your own cows, so recommends asking a family member to condition score with you. There are many good publications and a video available from Volac which show what the different condition scores look like.

"But if you only check body condition once in a cows lactation, check it 200 days after calving when it should be 2.75-3.25. Then when cows are too thin you can get them in the right condition for drying off or dry them off early," she said.

Once cows are dried off you must not let them mobilise body fat through underfeeding, she warned.

"There has been a tendency to send cows to a far away field on bare pasture, but they can lose weight. Dry cows need better nutrition."

In the early dry period you are feeding cows for maintenance. Give them just forage for a month. "This helps repair the rumen after any damage caused by high concentrate diets during lactation." But ensure cows have enough forage available.

Later in the dry period provide adequate nutrition for the calf and to prepare the rumen for lactation, so cows must be fed differently in the two weeks before calving.

Feed intake decreases as calf demand increases, so cows may start to mobilise body fat: Try to compensate by giving them some of the milking cow ration, with silage and low calcium concentrate to avoid milk fever. Cows fed well in those two weeks wont become fat, said Mrs Allen.

Feeding some of the milkers diet will also prepare rumen bugs for the milking diet: It takes three weeks for the bug population to adapt to a new diet, she added.

Feeding cows properly before calving means keeping dry cows in at least two groups. But you can split them by running an electric fence across a field, she advised.

There are benefits from splitting dry cows. At High House Farm dry cows are kept in four groups, explained John Helliars son David. This allows them to manage heifers which have finished their first lactation differently from cows.

"In the past, heifers yielded well in their first lactation, but second lactation yields were poorer.

"Heifers are now fed 2kg of concentrate two weeks before drying off. Then after two weeks dry, we feed them 1kg of beet pulp until they join the pre-calving group. This has helped improve second lactation yields," he said. &#42