Transition Cow Feeding and Management

June 1, 2017

Transition Cow Feeding and Management

A significant proportion of any herd’s health and welfare costs can come from the 3 weeks pre-calving to the 3 weeks post-calving. This is the period where the cow lays down the building blocks for the coming lactation, so minimising metabolic disease and implementing a system to reduce negative energy balance and maximise post-calving dry matter intakes can be very profitable.

Poor feeding and management during the transition period can result in a host of problems around calving such as dystocia (difficult calving), retained placenta, milk fever (hypocalcaemia), grass staggers (hypomagnesaemia), rapid weight loss and ketosis. Many of these issues are related as one may lead to manifestation of the other conditions, often as a result of reduced feed intakes. Feed intake tends to decline as calving approaches and does not peak until about 10 to 12 weeks after calving. This is the opposite of cow requirements, as nutrient demands increase rapidly in the last 2 months of pregnancy and cows achieve peak milk yields about 6 to 8 weeks after calving. Any calving or metabolic issues can be the final insult, resulting in downer cows and the consequent effects.

For example when a cow experiences a case of milk fever, she is then far more likely to experience ketosis (negative energy balance), displaced abomasum (twisted stomach), retained cleansings and even higher cell counts. The same can also be said for sub-clinical milk fever, which by its nature is very difficult to see and treat but can have a similar effect.

Dietary cation anion difference (DCAD) is a nutritional method of stimulating the cow’s own metabolism of calcium reserves used all over the world. Low DCAD diets can increase calcium utilisation and reduce milk fever, both clinical and sub-clinical. However in New Zealand we often feed high DCAD diets made up of pasture and grass silage, as opposed to low DCAD diets such as maize silage, wholecrop silage, hay and straw. Nutritech International has developed a low DCAD product called Springer Cow Balancer, which is made up of a blend of anionic salts that reduces dietary DCAD more so than a more traditional approach of feeding magnesium chloride or sulphate. The lower DCAD diets can increase calcium mobilisation and help to reduce milk fever issues.

Another common metabolic disease is ketosis, caused by severe negative energy balance in early lactation.

Quality feed management is key but we must also remember that cows are ruminants and stimulating rumen health can help to increase both dry matter intakes but also fibre utilisation. Levucell SC is a rumen specific live yeast proven to both increase rumen pH through challenging conditions and increase fibre digestibility, which can help cows adjust to an early lactation diet.

For further information, contact your Farmlands Technical Field Officer or the friendly team at your local Farmlands store.

As featured in Farmlander, June 2017

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About the Author

Nadine Olsen
Ruminant and Forage Technical Services Manager
BSc, MSc(Hons), BMS(Hons) Nadine is a Board Member and Vice Chairperson for New Zealand Young Farmers. Her Master’s Thesis examined genetic and nutritional factors affecting Read More

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