Some of the biggest opportunities to increase production efficiency and reproductive health come from supporting dairy cows as they “transition” from late pregnancy to early lactation. Whilst many traditional systems have taken a “hands off” approach to the transition period it is now generally considered to be the most critical time of the year, with as much as 80% of all health issues related to this period.
Whilst few New Zealand studies have conducted cost benefit analyses of transition management programmes, a comprehensive review of transition management practices was performed by Dairy Australia in 2010. Using data from the InCalf project this extensive study compared partial budgets of five different transition feeding strategies based on pasture/hay with and without grain, anionic salts, lead feed or combinations of these.
It identified positive benefits of feeding concentrate supplements and anionic salts on reducing incidences of disease and reproductive disorders. The data showed a benefit of A$2,846 per 100 cows in feeding anionic salts on pasture/hay diets, compared to A$21,679 for cows fed commercially formulated pre-calving supplements containing anionic salts and proprietary mix of minerals and vitamins.
Anionic salts assist calcium mobilisation at calving, as well boosting immuity through the inclusion of vitamins and key trace minerals. New data supports the importance of rumen protected choline in helping to speed up the break down of fats by the liver, thus helping to tackle ketosis.
A proactive approach is crucial in minimising issues associated with metabolic diseases, particularly their influences on fertility. First identify at risk cows such as those with a history of milk fever or in poor condition or are less than ideal condition at drying off. These cows should be fed according to requirements prior to the transition period. At risk cows can also be drenched with a starter drench containing a good dose (>400 ml) of monopropylene glycol (MPG), and high levels of calcium, prior to and just after calving.
Ingredients in the milking diet should be introduced to all cows during the transition period, to allow both rumen papillae and microbes to adapt to the new diet prior to a major stress period. Including a high quality protected fat in the diet until after mating. Trials have demonstrated positive returns on investment through improvements in milk yield, milk composition and fertility. Energy dense feeds such as protected fats can assist in increasing energy intakes during periods of high energy demand, when intakes are limited.
It may pay to seek advice from a qualified professional, with experience in transition management and feeding, who has access to a suitable feed rationing program.
As featured in NZ Dairy Farmer