Nutrition predictions: experts say get the feeding right for successful dairy production in 2014

This year weather conditions in the UK and Ireland are sure to impact on grazing. And anything that impacts on grazing will affect the nutritional status – and therefore productivity – of dairy cows. Record rainfall, flooding but also a very mild winter has meant that it’s a real mixed bag, with some already seeing signs of early grass growth and others with pasture still under significant amounts of water. With all of this in mind, Elanco Animal Health has been asking experts around the country for their predictions when it comes to optimising nutrition in dairy herds this year.

Dairy nutrition consultant, Hefin Richards of Profeed Nutrition Consultancy agrees that it’s a very variable situation throughout the country, “It’s virtually impossible to give a sensible generalisation, other than to say that with good quality forage in stock, cows are generally performing well, but forage stocks may be an issue on some farms.” Looking on the bright side, in areas where the mild, wet weather has allowed grass to get off to a good head start, there are opportunities. “Managing body condition in late lactation cows is as important as ever, and where conditions allow, early grazing late lactation animals offers an excellent opportunity to reduce feed costs and silage use, and tends to help maintain target body condition score prior to drying off,” says Hefin.

Hefin Richards

Hefin Richards

Down in Hampshire Dave Coombes of Cedar Farm Vets expects challenging conditions, “Whether managing dairy or beef suckler cows, the importance of ensuring cows come into calving in the correct body condition score (BCS) cannot be emphasised enough. The quantity and quality of grazed grass this spring growing on previously wet or flooded pastures will provide a real problem since the expected energy supply from such pastures will be severely limited compared to previous years. I am advising our farm clients to monitor late pregnant cattle very closely in order to ensure they are at BCS 3 to 3.5 at calving, providing supplementary feed as necessary to meet the target.”

There are some very specific risks that Dave will be on the look-out for, “Once calved, again high quality forages form the cornerstone of the cow’s nutritional needs. Suboptimal grass quality (whether grazed or fed as silage) will compromise the early lactation energy status of the cows and lead to negative energy balance, loss of body condition, and subsequent poor fertility. In dairy cows, monitoring for early lactation subclinical ketosis by measuring BHB levels in the milk provides an excellent and proactive way of assessing their nutritional status.”

Over in Ireland Finbar Mulligan of University College Dublin notes there are wider issues at play, “In the Republic of Ireland many dairy farmers have had their eye on milk quota for some time now.  Many are worried about triggering a superlevy fine.  When this happens you invariably get more cows dry for longer and calving with elevated BCS.  This makes for more problems of the transition and early lactation cow when they start to mobilise this unwanted body condition.  When you couple this with the poor grazing conditions we have right now, it means that these animals will be producing milk indoors.  If silage or forage quality is not optimal and where sufficient forage is not available on farms to feed cows in this period, it also adds to the likelihood of metabolic issues at subclinical and clinical level.  Farmers should BCS cows that have still to calve down and monitor energy status in calved cows.”

Francis Cosgrave, MVB, Elanco Ruminant Technical Consultant for UK and Ireland, encourages farmers to think very carefully about the specific challenges on their farm, “We know that with conditions like subclinical ketosis there is huge variation between farms. At-risk herds often report a large number of affected animals and we recommend that if more than 25 per cent of the herd tests positive for high BHB levels using Keto-test – a simple cow side milk test – that a preventative programme is put in place. Be aware of the potential impact of supplementary feeding in driving up BCS, or poor quality feed pushing cows into negative energy balance in early lactation.  Use the opportunities to get those late lactation cows out on grass early if that’s a possibility on your farm. Carry out regular body condition scoring and react early to any external factors, like the weather, that change how the herd needs to be managed. But most of all talk regularly to your vet and nutritionist.”

For further information contact Elanco Animal Health, Lilly House, Priestley Road, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG24 9NL, Tel 01256 353131, Fax 01256 779510 Email elancouk@lilly.com

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