Feed supplements crucial to maintain cow condition

Although the clouds have now parted for many of us and much land has had a good dose of rain, this will be too late to recover some grassland.

As the autumn calving period comes upon beef farmers, managing conditions to preserve both fertility and growth rates will be foremost in farmers’ minds.

The past months of drought may not yet have hampered calving cows, but, the crucial time for supplementing feed will come once calves are on the ground, explains Gavin Hill, beef specialist at SAC.

“Condition scoring cows and keeping a tight management eye on any lean animals is essential,” says Mr Hill.

“The drought may well have had a positive effect on some aspects of calving, such as preventing cows gaining supplementary body weight, reduced disease incidence due to high temperatures and reduced calving difficulties owing to cows being more active,” he adds.

But what is crucial is getting calved cows on to a full winter ration as soon as possible to prevent loss of condition, warns vet Keith Cutler of Endell Vet Group, Salisbury.

“A harmful side effect of losing condition will be the quantity and quality of colostrum available, which will, of course, affect immunity,” explains Mr Cutler.

“Reduced milk levels will also hinder growth rates and producers should get calves on to creep at the earliest opportunity to take pressure off lean mothers.

“A consequence of lost condition can be a reduction in fertility,” he adds.

Hygiene at calving is crucially important, particularly when cows are calved in small paddocks or indoors.

“Although the dry heat has alleviated certain disease problems, warm temperatures in smaller areas intensify risks in terms of harbouring disease,” Mr Cutler warns.

With the relaxation of set-aside rules allowing grass to be grazed or harvested for on-farm use, the question is whether to forage or ensile this much needed forage.

“The cheapest way of harvesting grass is to let cows graze it,” says Mr Cutler.

Pre-calving, it is essential to provide ad-lib straw and a good quality suckler cow mineral supplement, explains Donald Brown, Keenan beef specialist.

“Suckler cow minerals are sufficient; avoid providing cows with dairy dry-cow minerals, as this relies on cows being fed a mixed ration.

“Post-calving conditions should be looked at carefully.

When there is no grass, then a winter ration should be given to prevent loss of condition,” he advises.

“Don’t be tempted to save forage for spring calvers or finishing cattle.

There is no need to hold on to stock throughout the winter for payments anymore, so get them on to grain and get them finished.”

Ration intakes, ideally, will be about 120MJ ME a head a day, advises Colin Morgan, animal nutritionist at SAC.

“The first step is to analyse silage and hay, as although quantities are lower than previous years, dry matter content could well be higher than expected.

“Depending on forage analysis, intake can be achieved by either ad-lib pit silage accompanied by 0.75kg mineralised barley fed daily, ad-lib bale silage with 2kg concentrate, medium quality hay together with 2-3kg concentrate or ad-lib straw with 6kg of a 20% protein concentrate.

When feeding considerable amounts of concentrate ensure it is split into twice daily feeds, to avoid overloading the rumen,” he adds.