Preparing the cow for lactation

Preparing the cow for lactation

1 June 2017

What do you change in your herd’s diet from three weeks out from calving? Everyone knows the raft of metabolic diseases that can develop shortly after calving, but not everyone knows how to prevent them.

It’s common to see cows returning from the runoff ‘on the drop’, having received no special treatment whatsoever. Paying attention to what you feed during this transition period can mean less time treating sick cows and more milk in the vat in early lactation.

Preparing the cow and her rumen physically for lactation doesn’t take much effort. The ultimate goal is to calve down each cow with not only the ability to eat, but also the drive to eat (appetite). A good transition diet should exercise the rumen muscles, training them for the large increase in work load that will come after calving (as energy requirements increase). Incorporating fibrous feeds such as hay, mature silage and straw into the diet will make the rumen work harder. Such feeds are also bulky, which helps maintain rumen capacity, even as the calf takes up more space. You should aim to have each cow eating greater than two percent of her live weight prior to calving i.e. a 500kg cow should eat a minimum of 10 kgDM per day.

A transition diet should also incorporate the components of the milking cow ration. If the milking herd is going to be fed grain-based pellets or maize silage, then they should also have these in their diet pre-calving, to allow the rumen to adapt to them. The rumen bugs require two to three weeks to fully adjust their populations when a new feed is introduced and the absorptive surface (papillae) of the rumen undergoes a period of change over several weeks. Allowing time for these changes is crucial if the cow is to make good use of her post-calving feed.

Rumen modifiers such as Rumensin® are a valuable addition to the transition diet. They act directly on the rumen bugs to increase the efficiency of feed utilisation, meaning more energy is available for every kilogram of feed eaten.

Pre-calving, this optimises the availability of energy for foetal growth and colostrum production, and helps minimise the incidence of metabolic conditions like ketosis post-calving. Additionally, reducing milk fever is important as a cow that gets milk fever is 8.9 times more likely to get ketosis.

Infection such as mastitis and retained membranes are often the result of a reduction in immune system activity. In late pregnancy there is a significant transfer of trace minerals to the calf, which means that the cow’s total trace mineral supply is reduced. Trace minerals such as selenium, copper and zinc are heavily involved in the function of the immune system, so adding extra to the transition diet can help to minimise the incidence of these infections.

SealesWinslow has a range of pelletized feeds and molassed mineral blocks which can aid you in achieving the best practice goals of transition feeding outlined in this article.

If you would like to discuss your options for meeting winter dietary and mineral requirements, simply contact your local Fonterra Farm Source TSR or SealesWinslow representative.

Article supplied by SealesWinslow