Mid-winter check keeps performance on target
Mid-winter dairy ration checks could pay dividends later on. Jessica Buss reports
CHECKING that dairy cow performance is on target now may eliminate any long-term effects of ration imbalances on production and fertility.
"A good indicator of diet sufficiency is how well cows milk after peak," says Midlands ADAS nutrition consultant Tim Davies. "Sudden falls in yield often reflect a shortage of energy or protein in the ration."
When cows are not performing up to expectations the cost of improving rations is off-putting, he admits. But milk is a valuable commodity and feeding is not just for this lactation but for subsequent lactations as well, he adds.
Wolverhampton-based independent consultant Stuart Jones advises a careful check of milk protein trends to show if energy supply is adequate.
Beware that when both milk yield and protein % is low in fresh calvers the risk of ketosis is increased, especially when cows have calved down too fat, he warns. Silent heats in early lactation also often indicate a feeding problem that needs correcting.
When cows are housed in the autumn bulk milk proteins are typically 3.3 to 3.4%. This level should hold until January but if the diet is insufficient protein will drop to 3.2-3.1%.
"A steady decrease from mid-December often means the diet is deficient in energy or possibly protein," says Mr Jones. "You can try to improve protein or it may be more economic, in the case of mid-lactation cows, to reduce the extent of the loss and wait for turnout."
Whatever the decision, he recommends ensuring cows have enough fodder in front of them to achieve the dry matter intakes needed, especially for shy feeders. Putting silage in ring feeders can increase access to these cows.
In the longer term, says Mr Davies, body condition changes reflect nutrition adequacy. If condition has fallen this winter the risk of poor fertility is increased.
ADAS consultant David Levick advises checking submission and conception rates. Extra attention is needed, for it is one of the most difficult times of year to get cows in calf, he adds.
But there may be reasons other than nutrition, such as lameness, that cause poor performance, warns Mr Davies. Mid-winter is a good time to assess housing conditions which may be contributing to lameness. Damage to animals feet and legs could be prevented next winter by improving housing in the summer.
Tim Davies: "Sudden falls in yield often reflect a shortage of energy or protein in the ration."
• Milk yield related to target.
• Trends in milk protein.
• Fertility performance.
• Cost of feed ingredients.
• Housing conditions.