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Getting It Right During Early Lactation

With many farms reaching peak calving time, the main challenge for farmers is to avoid any associated metabolic problems that are often prevalent in herds around calving time. The key will be to keep dry matter intake as high as possible, keep mineral balance correct and maintain a comfortable environment with minimal stress for the cow in transition.

Planning for turnout to grass

As we continue with unusual weather conditions for January, many dairy units will be considering turning cows out to grass over the next few days/weeks, subject to grass covers and soil conditions. Although there seems to be quite high covers of grass around the country, I am advising all farmers to complete a spring grass rotation planner to make sure that there is plenty of grass when cows will be out fulltime in the month of March.

Significant planning is required to make sure that the diets of freshly calved cows does not change weekly due to shortages of grass, etc. We need to avoid sudden changes in diet to avoid stress on the calved cow, as this will have a negative effect on subsequent body condition loss and thereby reproductive performance.

Freshly calved cows will undergo significant changes and their diet will need to be altered to maintain body condition and achieve desired targets for milk yield and subsequent reproductive performance. Aim to achieve between 17-20kg DM per day with overall protein in the diet of between 16-17%. I highly recommend an 16% Hi-Energy Cattle Fattening Cubes + Yeast at approximately five to seven kg per day depending on the type and respective yield of the dairy cow and forage quality.

Spring grass is highly digestible with moderate levels of energy of 12.5 MJ/kg DM together with a high sugar content and low fibre levels. It is important to note that a dairy cow will reach her highest milk yield six to eight weeks post calving but feed intake will not peak until ten to twelve weeks. Intake of grass silage, grazed grass and concentrates will be the key determinant of a successful season for milk performance and profitability.

Key parameters for maximising milk solids at grass

  1. Energy will be the limitation at grass and must be carefully balanced with protein for optimal milk performance
  2. Insufficient protein in the diet of a spring cow caused from an over reliance on estimated grass silage quality offered in the diet will also limit energy. It is important to note that grazed grass will be high in protein in early spring and this must be balanced with other components of the diet. When milk protein is below three percent in early spring an energy deficit is most likely the problem
  3. Insufficient fibre in the diet will compromise milk fat. This is mainly a problem in early spring due to lush grass being highly digestible. Provide as much palatable fibre sources as possible to slow the rate of digestion via the introduction of long fibre forages such as hay and straw. Soya hulls and beet pulp may also be offered but intake must be monitored for successful results. Rumen buffers such as acidbuf will also help create a better rumen environment to maintain rumen health and function. These rumen sodium bicarbonate buffers are slow releasing sodium bicarbonate which maintains rumen pH, preventing ruminal acidosis and maximising the yield of rumen volatile fatty acids.


  1. Provide high quality forages and concentrate supplements to the calved cow. Monitor the quality of forage offered and watch feed intake at all times. KEY DRIVER IS INTAKE
  2. Ensure supplementation rate is matched to milk yield and the body condition of the cow
  3. Maximise the quantity of grass in the diet of the fresh calved cow
  4. Make sure all cows have access to feed; a reduction in feed space will reduce intakes, in particular if cows are buffer fed
  5. Ensure magnesium is provided to prevent grass tetany at grass. A minimum of 56 grams is required per day
  6. Mineral supplementation should be offered to the freshly calved cow, key trace elements and vitamins include: calcium, magnesium, sodium, manganese, copper, zinc, selenium, iodine, vitamins A, D and E

Recommended concentrate feeding levels

  • Dairy Cow (600kg) producing 28 litres of milk being fed silage and concentrates –
Silage 65 DMD 70 DMD 75 DMD
Concentrates required 7.9kg 6.95kg 6kg
  • Dairy Cow (600kg) producing 25 litres of milk on grass by day and fed silage at night –
Silage 65 DMD 70 DMD 75 DMD
Grass 6 kg DM 6 kg DM 6 kg DM
Concentrates 4.4kg 3.9kg 3.2kg

For further advice on dealing with herd health in the post calving period, be sure to contact one of the Connolly’s RED MILLS nutritional team.

  • Tags:
  • Agri
  • animal health
  • animal nutrition
  • calving
  • cows
  • dry matter
  • feeding programme
  • grazing
  • milk solids