Ensure body condition remains focus for dry cows
With the milking season over on most spring-calving farms, herds of dry cows -- either housed or being wintered on crops -- are now a common sight across the country.
It's a nice time of year to slow down and reduce the length of the working day, especially with the short day lengths. However, there is the risk that the dry cow can be managed by neglect. The fact that the dry cow period has the lowest nutrient requirements has given farmers the wrong impression of the importance of this period in terms of cow health and future production.
The importance of body condition score at calving has been known for decades. Calving a cow at a score of 3.25, where the backbone is smooth, ribs are flat and not easily felt, the pin and hip bone is rounded and the tail head is full and firm (heifer at 3.5 -- tail head full and obviously fat but ligament visible), is optimal for both milk production and fertility. Getting this wrong could cost you dearly, with research suggesting a loss of milk equating to 112-224 litres per cow over first eight weeks, along with a longer anoestrus period, and 7pc higher infertility rates.
These figures may seem small but the reality of an empty rate of 8pc after 12 weeks of mating, compared to 15pc, is substantial.
Yet, at farm level most farmers are still struggling to find strategies that both monitor and guarantee that 95pc of our cows reach this target of 3.25 a month prior to calving. Obviously, late lactation strategies, such as early dry off of low condition-scored cows and first calvers or increased and preferential feeding of cows in late lactation, can help. The following are key management strategies to help you hit those targets:
•Act early as a target of 3.25 needs to be achieved before the last month of pregnancy. Cows calving in early February now only have 30 days to gain an adequate body condition.
•Identify cows by calving date, split off low-conditioned cows and preferentially feed these animals.
•Keep younger and lighter cows apart to reduce competition with mature, heavier cows.