Cow Death Heightens Concern Over Low Protein Levels in Silage

UK - A casualty animal recently submitted to one of SRUC's Veterinary Investigation Centres confirms earlier fears that some silages being fed to livestock this winter are low in protein.
calendar icon 22 February 2016
clock icon 2 minute read

The dead cow, examined by Vets from the SAC Consulting Division of SRUC, was diagnosed with a condition called rumen impaction.

The first stomach or rumen of a cow is effectively a large bag hosting millions of microbes that help ruminant animals begin to digest the plant material they eat.

Rumen impaction occurs when what the animals eat contains insufficient protein to supply these microbes which affects their activity. This reduces the rate of fermentation or digestion and leads to blockages which slow the progress of food into the next part of the digestive system.

It also means there is less space in the rumen for any new food the animal eats.

Veterinary Investigation Officer Heather Stevenson commented: “In November SRUC warned that our analytical labs had identified that there were more lower protein silages around than usual this winter.

"We highlighted the potential risks of feeding low protein grass silages to spring calving suckler cows.

"Animals not receiving enough protein from their feed often look healthy and full which means their condition is sometimes not discovered until too late. The case investigated was one of 2 cows to die in a group.”

SRUC is recommending that any farmer who has not recently analysed their silage get it done as soon as possible. While bulk and energy levels are often good low protein content is difficult to spot.

“Sometimes there are signs in the dung which is far firmer and drier than normal for the time of year,” commented Ms Stevenson.

“Blood samples can be used to confirm low protein status and the farmer’s vet would notice other signs. But it is important farmers keep alert.”

Aware that problems can arise in other ruminants, like sheep fed on similar silages, SRUC recommends that farmers seek nutritional advice on the best way to provide protein supplements. It is important to asses the animals body condition score so that animals can be grouped and fed accordingly as many conventional protein supplements are also high energy.

Specialist advisers from SRUC’s SAC Consulting Division can offer more specific advice on the best way to provide suckler cow rations as they get closer to calving and beyond. Concerned farmers can also contact their local SAC Consulting office for guidance. Likewise expert advice is also available for local veterinary practices.

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