Last month’s article focussed on feeding cows to achieve calving body condition targets prior to drying off. This month’s article covers feeding and management during the dry period prior to the transition to calving.
Most dry cows are wintered on pasture or crops off the milking platform, with the aim to maintain or gain condition prior to calving. It is difficult to gain much condition during the last two months before calving, as the foetus requirements increase significantly. There is also a risk of increasing insulin resistance in cows overfed during the dry period, which may lead to higher levels of metabolic disorders around calving.
The objective should be to feed dry cows a balanced diet according to their requirements, which will include accounting for heat loss during cold and wet conditions, and energy used for grazing and walking. Wastage of feed, particularly crops and silages which can be considerable, needs to be factored in to any feed allocations.
Crops may not provide a balanced diet, for example roots like fodder beet, are low in protein and minerals, particularly phosphorous. Mineral nutrition is often ignored during much of the dry period, due partly to difficulty in providing a reliable way to feed them.
Calving is a stressful time for cows, nutritionally and immunologically, so setting them up well will help minimise any issues, and allow them to reach peak milk production as quickly as possible. Minerals are important for ensuring efficient and effective metabolic and immunological processes, and are likely to be depleted if not adequately supplemented for any length of time.
It is easy to check the dietary balance and match nutrient supply to requirements, including minerals, using a reliable feed rationing program. There are also a number of ways of providing minerals, through the water, as a balancer with forage or other supplement, or as a free access loose lick or block.
It is important to consider a dry cow feeding strategy as an investment for the next lactation, especially during a low payout year, so cows can produce more milk more efficiently from pasture, with less metabolic problems, so generate a higher return for your farm.
As featured in NZ Dairy Farmer