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Transitioning Dairy Cows to Winter Feed

It is the time of year again where we are fast approaching the transition of dairy cows to winter feed and away from summer grazing. Farmers will need to manage their feeding strategies carefully so as not to compromise on production. As autumn takes hold the quality of grazed grass will reduce as the proportion of leaf to stem changes, ultimately leading to lower protein content.

Issues during transition period

Due to this change in grass quality, it is important that the diet of the autumn calved cows is adjusted to produce a healthy calf together with a smooth transition from non-lactating to lactation. It is also important that the metabolic profile of the autumn cow is correct to ensure a healthy transition.

Body condition score (BCS) will be the most important factor when transitioning cows to winter feed as it can have a big influence on the metabolic profile of the cow. Excess body condition can manifest problems such as dystocia, fatty liver, milk fever etc. Prior to calving the body condition of each cow must be assessed to evaluate the score and cows above a BCS of 3.5 should be separated and fed accordingly to reduce the gain in the latter stages.

Key dietary requirements

I suggest that cows are offered some silage, straw and hay to reduce the influx of body condition.  I also recommend to restrict feeding of forage and to feed a precalver mineral via molassed blocks or loose minerals. My advice is to feed 100 grams of a loose mineral paying particular attention to magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin E and selenium. Make sure to check the specification of the precalver mineral and seek advice on this as there are significant differences among suppliers.

Post-calving, I recommend that the diet for your cows is significantly changed to reduce the degree of mobilisation of body condition.  The energy content must be increased and cows should be supplemented with feed that has a concentrate of 18% protein at approximately two to four kg per day; subject to the genetic merit of the cow. Connolly’s RED MILLS 18% High Energy Dairy Cube is a great option here as it also has a high proportion of maize and is finely balanced to achieve a high milk output.

It is pivotal to offer high-quality silage during the transition to winter feed.  This is key and if it is below 72% DMD a greater requirement of supplementary feeds will be needed.

Seek professional advice

The key point is to ensure a balanced diet is offered to autumn dairy cows, achieving a high milk output but ensuring the health and metabolic profile is not compromised with specific feeding strategies adopted from the transition to the lactation period.

It is always advisable to consult with a qualified nutritionist when it comes to adjusting or changing the diet of any stock so as not to compromise overall health and performance.

For further information or advice on transitioning dairy cows to winter feed please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Connolly’s RED MILLS ruminant team.

  • Tags:
  • Agri
  • Body Condition Scoring
  • grass
  • milk fever
  • transition period