Summary of the Crecora Dairy Seminar 5th Feb 2014

My thanks to Des Cronin from Inform Nutrition and all the delegates who braved the inclement weather to attend last night.

We had a very informative talk on cow nutrition, cow health and how to boost her productivity economically.

Des has been working for Inform Nutrition in Cork for 18 years and has been in the feed trade all his working life. He comes from the West of Ireland and has been living in Effin Co Limerick for the last 15 years. He has plenty of experience with on farm health and productivity. As part of his job he provides technical help to O’Connell Milling in formulating rations and assisting with farmers who have health problems. He has been sent to  20 different countries in the last 10 years to give his practical Irish knowledge.

The first point made was that what you put into a cow, you get out. If you don’t fill her nutrition needs she will not give you the return in the form of cash.

We started the talk on Pre- calving nutrition.

Des made the point that this is a vital stage in a cows life and correct nutrition here will allow her to produce more milk through her lactation, ensure a healthy calf and ensure the minimum of problems.

He highlighted the importance of Body condition at calving (BCS 2.75 to 3.25 is ideal) . He also highlighted the importance of keeping fresh feed in front of a cow before calving as her ability to eat reduces by 30% due to the size of her calf restricting the size of her rumen. If she does not eat enough before calving she will be weak at calving and problems will occur. The level of Potash (K) in silage has doubled over the last 10 years due to slurry being spread on silage ground very late. The Potash in this slurry is not broken down fully by the time of cutting and this leads to it coming in with the silage. This excess Potash has a huge effect on the cows metabolism and quite often causes Milk Fever. This high Potash silage would be safer fed to milking cows. Ideally we recommend putting aside bales from paddocks that did not get any slurry and using them for the dry cows if at all possible.

At Calving time Des had a few recommendations. After calving offer the cow a bucket of water pretty much straight away. The cow will not leave the calf to drink from a drinking bowl just after calving and she needs the water. If you were after running a marathon you would be looking for water and the cow is after a similar experience. She should drink 15 to 20 or more litres of water immediately after calving. Watch out for the cow that does not drink! She is telling you that there may be something else wrong with her.  Similarly after calving make sure she has fresh fodder in front of her and offer her a bit of concentrate. The first hour after calving is the best time to do this as after an hour the adrenalin in the cow wears off and she starts to feel sore, sick and will not eat enough. Des feels that the cow should have a bit of time in the calving pen after calving as if she goes straight into a shed with other cows she will often not compete for food and will lose excess body weight. This can affect her milk yield over her whole lactation.

Post Calving ideally we should be introducing small amounts of concentrate to get her system used to it before going straight onto the full dairy milking diet. Begin small and work your way up over 3 to 4 weeks if at all possible. He showed some research that was done that showed the benefit of feeding modest amounts of concentrate post calving to minimise weight loss and to get the cow reproductive cycle going faster and healthier. Remember at the time of serving that her egg was formed three weeks earlier.

Des also made the point on soil fertility. We need to get a good handle on our soil fertility and we are only know starting to spread lime in earnest down south. In the North of Ireland for the last 15 years he said you could not travel a road without meeting a lime spreading outfit.

If you are making silages of DMD66 regularly you will need to reseed those fields on average every 3 to 4 years to keep the yield up. If you can make silages of 702 or above that falls to every 7 years! this is due to in 66 DMD silages we are asking the grass to head out to seed and the process of seeding out takes a lot out of the plant. If we cut 20 May for 70 DMD silages we are not asking the plant to do this so the grass will last longer.

On grazing. As an experiment he asked any farmer that was feeding 12 hour blocks to cows to try feeding 20% more grass once a week to see if the cows will graze it down. In his experience Irish farmers drastically over-estimate the actual grass intake on a daily basis which results in cows going hungry and not performing to their peak. Milk solids are affected by this. If a guy says sure if I gave them more grass they would have the whole place eaten in a few weeks then he is not feeding enough. If the cow is hungry she will not perform. If you go out to a 12 hour grazing block at 1 o clock and the place is bare then those cows are hungry until milking time. This can lead to all kinds of upsets, acidosis and poor milk solid performance.

2nd rotation grass problems. Grazing into the 2nd rotation is the biggest change in diet that a cow will face all year. She has gone from cleaning out a paddock with fibrous grass that has been growing since Autumn to eating lush, leafy rapidly fermentable grass that has only been growing for a few weeks. It will take her 3 to 4 weeks to acclimatize to this new diet. This time of the year is when cows become very loose, go off their food, pick up stiffness in their joints and after a few weeks may show signs of lameness. These are generally caused by a mild or in some cases a not so mild case of Rumen Acidosis. Acidosis occurs when the cow is given rapidly fermentable grass in her diet and the acid PH level in her rumen drops giving her what we consider bad heartburn. the grass passes through her system too fast and she will not chew the cud with it. When she chews the cud she produces up to 1.5 kilos of Bicarbonate per day in her saliva which buffers her Rumen. If she is not chewing the cud, she cannot get this Bicarbonate into her rumen so she develops acidosis.  She will go off her food as a result and Milk solid performance can take a nose dive.

To try to help this situation we recommend that you don’t put cows onto this grass hungry. Feed them some silage or straw before grazing if possible and consider using a buffering agent such as RumBuf in your feed to help her along. Try to introduce them to this grass a gradually as possible. Once her Rumen is acclimatised she will be able to handle this grass and make best use of it.

In bad cases of Acidosis treat with Antacid or buffering agent as soon as possible.

What affects Intake indoors. Milk yield, fodder quality, days in lactation and feeding space are some of the big variables. In the rest of the world a cow indoors generally has 10 metres by 10 metres space allocated to her, has plenty of room to eat and is presented with 74 to 80 DMD silage.

Des made the point that we need to get into the habit of making better silage of at least 70 DMD. This will allow us to feed this silage to cows indoors calving earlier and maximise our days in lactation.

In a post Quota system we already can expand our Milk yield by 15 % by just keeping doing what we are doing. With a little more feeding and some small changes in practices we could get 30% more milk and solids without ever going up in numbers. That is worth thinking about.

The take home messages were,

Watch cows at calving for poor eating.

Give the cow a bucket of water and a small bit of concentrate as soon as she has calved and monitor if she drinks and eats.

Grass is a great feed but make sure the cows are getting enough of it. If they are going hungry they need supplementation to maximise milk and milk solid yield.

What you put in, you get out. If you feed the cow she will respond in the long-term with better health, better fertility, more milk yield and more milk solids.

16kg Dry matter intake a day is the minimum we should be aiming for.

Feed Dry cows silage with low potash. Lighter coloured bales or parts of the pit. Dark coloured silage is generally are high in Potash.


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