Why structural fibre is essential for fresh cows

Ensuring structural fibre is available to fresh cows in very early lactation could ease transition by reducing metabolic issues and stabilising rumen function.

This is according to NWF head of technical Adam Clay, who said it was worthwhile splitting off cows for the first five days of their lactation.  

He told the UK Dairy Day audience at Telford last week (13 September) that the dietary change faced by fresh cows was often too abrupt after 55-60 days on a low-energy straw-based diet.

In comparison, milking rations contain higher levels of concentrate and lower levels of fibre.

See also: 4 must-dos for transition cow management

He explained: “By putting more structural fibre in the diet we should help rumen pH remain at 6.0-6.2 because we are providing an environment in which fibre-digesting bacteria can thrive and reduce the shock of a rapid change.”

How rations differ


Close-up calving

Milking ration

Straw 5-6kg



Silage 12-14kg DM

10kg DM

12-14kg DM

Concentrate 0kg



ME 8.6-9

ME 10-11

ME 11.5-12.2

Crude protein 13-14%



Starch 0%



NDF 45-50%

NDF 40%

NDF 32-38%

But he stressed this couldn’t be done in the main ration as this would limit milk yield.

“If farms can section off a shed for fresh cows up to five days post-calving, this could decrease transition cow problems and sub-acute ruminal acidosis [Sara],” said Mr Clay. “It also gives opportunity to check for rumen fill temperatures, cleansings and feed intake.”

He said the dairy industry had made major progress with transition cow management in recent years, but stressed that the initial few days post-calving required closer scrutiny.

“As a nutritionist on farm I see too often that we are seeing a good transition system and then Sara in fresh cows,” he said.

He admitted that infrastructure was a key challenge to providing fibre to a specific group of cows, but added that top dressing with hay could be an easy solution.

Four steps to managing early lactation cows

  1. Add structural fibre. Can you place straw or hay in racks or a ring feeder? Ideally, top dress the total-mixed ration with 1kg of hay (freshweight) a cow for the first five days of lactation.
  2. Introduce concentrate slowly. For example, if you are feeding 2kg pre-calving, then start at 2kg post-calving and increase concentrate rate by 0.3kg a head a day to give you 8.3kg a head a day at 21 days post-calving.
  3. Ensure the cow is rehydrated immediately post-calving. Lactating cows require 60-100 litres/day
  4. Complete fresh cow checks for the first five to 10 days post-calving. Check temperature, cleansings, rumen fill, feed and intake of clean water dung consistency – bubbly and/or loose dung can indicate acidosis and low rumen pH.