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Make Sure Dry Cows Are Ready For Next Lactation

02 November 2009

With lush green pastures a result of plenty of rain in some parts this summer, it is important for producers to ensure that dry cows aren't overconditioned. Bob James, Extension Dairy Scientist at Viginia Cooperative Extension looks at ways producers can prevent cows from overfattening.

Letting dry cows become overfat can cause calving difficulties, with cows becoming prone to milk fever, displaced abomasums and ketosis. Mr James says that late lactations cows, those with dry periods exceeding 60 days are more likely to overcondition. By establishing a low group total mixed ration (TMR) with reduced concentrations of energy and protein, will reduce the chances of overconditioning and reduce feed costs.

Mr James says that the majority of dry cows require little concentrate supplementation, usually less than 3lb. per day. He recommends restricting access to lush pasture for dry cows by controlling grazing pressure, this will reduce the availability of pasture nutrients. If dry cows average a condition score of 3.5, producers should consider the use of a confinement feeding system where the energy intake can be controlled more closely.

Research at Illinois has shown that a single dry cow TMR can be successfully implemented. Guidelines for such systems include:
  • Formulate dry cow TMR’S using about 1/3 chopped straw, 1/3 corn silage and 1/3 from some other hay, silage and concentrate.

  • Dry matter intake goals are 25 to 27 lb. / cow / day.

  • Energy density of .59 to .63 Mcal Net Energy/lb. of dry matter

  • Protein content of 12 – 15 per cent providing about 1,000g/day of metabolisable protein.

  • Starch content of 12 – 16 per cent

  • Neutral Detergent Fibre from forage should be between 40 to 50 per cent of dry matter intake.

  • Total ration dry matter content should be no greater than 55 per cent. If it is higher, cows will tend to sort out the more fibrous parts of the diet.

  • Mineral supplementation - 0.4 per cent magnesium, 0.35 -0.40 per cent sulphur, 0.27 - 0.35 per cent phosphate, 0.5 - 0.6 per cent calcium and potassium as low as is practically possible. Provide at least 1,000 IU of Vitamin E daily.

A goal of all dry cow feeding systems is consistency. Make sure that straw is chopped to a length of 2” and that the TMR is thoroughly mixed. Make sure that bunk space is adequate and that feed is available for 20 hrs/day. Avoid the use of moldy hay or straw or small grain silages harvested in the “boot” stage. Hay crops heavily contaminated with soil must be avoided as the iron in soil will interfere with absorption of other minerals and predispose cows to metabolic disease.

November 2009

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