Dairy farmers are being urged to house their autumn calvers now to maximise conceptions at next service.
Livestock Partnership vet Maarten Boers says with the current abundance of grass and warm dry weather, farmers might be tempted to keep their dry cows out for longer. However, in doing so he says they could compromise fertility.
“There is little nutritional value in the grass and dry cows could lose more weight if they do not receive an adequate winter ration, which could lead to fertility problems when these animals are due for service.”
Last autumn Mr Boers says he saw a conception rate of just 25% on one client’s farm, compared with 40% in the other months. He says this demonstrates good nutrition is crucial to avoid a knock-on effect on fertility between calving and conception as a result of inadequate nutrition.
Optimising cow fertility depends on condition scoring cows and careful feed management. “When cows lose a condition score of one or more between calving and serving there will be fertility issues,” says Mr Boers.
He suggests condition scoring cows at drying off when it is easier to adjust the cows’ condition score through feeding and monitoring them regularly during the dry period to ensure it remains stable.
Tim Davies, nutrition specialist at Kite Consulting, says the autumn calvers diet should provide 17-17.8% protein and 11.7-12MJ of ME depending on the production level and calving pattern. “Milkers should be eating 22-28kg DM, dry cows will only eat 11.5-13.5 kg DM, depending on feed and facilities,” he says.
When cows are kept out on low quality grass for too long and they lose body condition there will be associated health issues, says Mr Davies.
“There will be more issues with lameness and other foot problems, cows may stop cycling, and it could also lead to problems such as milk fever, grass staggers, metritis, mastitis and difficult calvings,” he says.
Mr Davies says farmers should supplement dry cows with anything containing energy.
“Energy is the first limiting factor, but it comes down to the farmers’ personal preference how they farm the cows and how they manage them.”
Mr Davies also suggests minimising stress to dry cows by making sure they have enough trough and yard space and enough magnesium and trace elements.