High Fibre Diets Maintain Dry Cow Health Status

UK - A change to the feeding regime of spring calving suckler cows has not only reduced costs by almost half, but cows are now calving down more easily, milking better and cycling promptly since producer Brain Atkinson introduced a high-fibre diet during the dry period.
calendar icon 21 March 2007
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"We're now filling up these cows with straw and making full use of the rumen. It's stopping them getting fat, reducing silage intake, and what silage they are eating is going through them more slowly.

"Cows are getting more from forage during the dry period but, because we've kept the rumen active, they're really keen to start eating after calving - and that's when we want higher intakes," says Mr Atkinson of Scratchmere Scar, Plumpton, Penrith.

Aware that lower energy intakes of dry suckler cows are about 17MJ a day, Mr Atkinson was concerned cows were scoffing restricted silage feed which passed through quickly and left cows with an empty rumen for the rest of the day."We were feeding chopped silage, but it wasn't working. We got too many twisted uterus problems because cows weren't full enough when they were calving down. We moved on to round bales, which was at least keeping the forage in them for longer, but still not long enough. Cows were losing condition after calving and failing to get back in calf, which was dragging out the calving period," says Mr Atkinson.

The farm's Keenan nutritionist Donald Brown believes dry-cow nutrition in the later stages of pregnancy was hitting profitability. "So many cows loose weight after calving, delaying oestrus and often leading to poorer fertility."

Dry cows from the 400-cow Limousin and Belgian Blue cross suckler herd have been switched to a daily diet of 5kg of straw and 18-20kg of silage to maintain rumen fill.

Calves are taken off cows in November, giving a five-month dry period before calving begins in April. Dry cow feed costs are 60p a day using straw compared with almost £1 a day on the previous system.

"As part of improving management there's a big opportunity to wean calves early, say at 200 days. There's no point in feeding cows just to feed calves that could cope on their own," adds Mr Brown.

Source: Farmers Weekly Interactive
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