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Key Management Steps for Autumn-Winter Breeding Herds

Housing has begun in some parts of the country due to inclement weather conditions recently. This year, infertility has been a big challenge across dairy farms and farmers need to give due consideration to the main factors that affect fertility in order to improve the situation.

The inclement weather conditions over the last week has resulted in poor grazing conditions for all classes of stock across the country, leading to full time housing in some cases. At this stage fodder budgets and feed quality evaluations have been conducted, so our clients can make decisions based on data collected from each farm. This will give our clients more confidence in making sure they have sufficient forage for a possible late spring next year, pending weather & grazing conditions. As cows are being housed across the country, pre-calving scanning will be in full swing for some clients. Regrettably, on recent farm visits there was evidence that the fertility of dairy cows has reduced, with poor scanning rates observed for this season, albeit better than previous years. Extended calving interval, increased culling rate, increased veterinary costs, low milk production, reduced subsequent fertility in next lactation are all real issues on many dairy farms. Infertility is a big challenge across dairy farms and farmers need to give due consideration to the main factors that affect fertility in order to improve the situation.

Dry matter intake and BCS

It is important to monitor the dry matter intake of cows at all stages of lactation, so cows don’t suffer from a negative energy balance (NEB), particularly in early lactation. High dry matter intake and an increased ratio of sugar-based feed-based ingredients (beet pulp) are associated with good responses to reproductive performance. It is important to note that as the cow approaches calving she has a reduced intake of between 25-40%. Therefore, it is important to offer pre-calving cows a higher energy density diet three weeks from calving.

The hormonal changes prior to calving affect appetite and thereby reduce feed intake shortly before calving. The decrease in feed intake combined with the initiation of lactation and production of colostrum starts a period of NEB. This period must be minimised to offset the degree of mobilisation. Metabolically the cow responds releasing non-esterified free fatty acids and ketones from the adipose tissue of which alters normal energy metabolism in the liver. These changes will affect ovarian function and will interfere with follicle development and maintenance of pregnancy.

Feed management

Dairy Cows Grazing

The first three weeks following calving will provide the biggest challenge for dairy cows. Focus must be on reducing the degree of NEB as already outlined. I advise where possible to place cows in a separate area in the 7-10 days approaching calving and offer them a dense high energy diet. This will be important to encourage a smooth transition from non-lactating to lactating. However, ensure that changes in the diet are done so in a subtle way to avoid an oversupply of starch in the rumen. The rumen microbes need time to adapt to a change in the diet and if it is not balanced, rumen acidosis maybe prevalent, thereby also affecting reproductive performance.

Balancing the diet

In terms of diet it is important that sufficient energy is provided but just the correct amount matched to the milk yield and genetics of the specific cow. An imbalance of energy or too much protein will have a negative impact on reproductive performance. An excessive amount of rumen degradable protein delays first ovulation or oestrus, thus a reduced conception rate to first service. The cow will have to mobilise excessive protein thereby using up energy in disposing excessive protein. If cows are already in NEB, the problem is exacerbated with more ammonia and urea is produced thereby having negative effects on oocyte and embryo development. Altered pH is the biggest challenge in dairy diets following calving as acidosis is never too far away.

Appropriate Mineral Supplementation

It is important that sufficient minerals are offered 6-8 weeks prior to calving together with a mineral post calving. Pay particular attention to key trace elements to include magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, iodine, selenium. Don’t forget about vitamins as it is very important to have elevated levels of vitamin E to boost immunity and vitamin A & D for release of calcium.

In summary dry matter intake, protein and energy requirement together with mineral balance will be crucial to the reproductive performance, whilst the key will be to balance the diet to the type of cow you have on each specific farm. In Connolly’s Red Mills we have tailored feeds to offset some of the associated problems I have mentioned.

For further advice on dealing with fertility problems in the herd, be sure to contact one of the Connolly’s RED MILLS nutrition team or call into our Agri Super Store in Cillin Hill.

  • Tags:
  • Agri
  • animal health
  • animal nutrition
  • Body Condition Scoring
  • cows
  • dairy
  • dry matter
  • feed
  • feeding programme
  • grazing
  • heifers
  • silage
  • transition period
  • winter feed