Act now to redress energy deficit to get cows back on track

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Length: 538 words; 3-4 minutes

Cows Feeding Image

Dairy herds are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges this winter as continuing energy deficits threaten to hold back production once cows are housed. And unless rations are adjusted quickly, many will fall short of winter targets for milk output, fertility and lameness, warns KW nutritionist Dr Anna Sutcliffe.

“Grass energy levels were below the six-year average for most of the grazing season (figure 1), whilst the continuing low milk price resulted in less supplementary feeding,” she explains. “It means that most grazing herds were pushed hard during the summer, and will be entering winter with lower than ideal body condition score (BCS).”

[ caption id = “attachment_1610” align = “alignleft” width = “630” ] < a href = “” rel = “attachment wp-att-1610” > Energy Graph Figure 1– Grass energy levels during the 2016 grazing season( Source: Trouw Nutrition )[ /caption]


The energy challenge is compounded by this year’s higher fibre first and second cut grass silages, which are averaging 0.2-0.4MJ ME/kg DM less than last year, plus potentially poorer quality cereals in some regions.

Lost milk yield

“Once housed on full rations, cows will prioritise replenishing body condition ahead of milk production, with the energy required to regain 0.5 BCS potentially reducing yields by 1.9 litres/day for three months,” continues Dr Sutcliffe.

“Energy deficits can also impact milk protein production, with knock-on effects for milk value. On some milk supply contracts, a 0.15 percentage point drop below milk protein threshold will cut milk price by 0.5ppl.”

“…BCS loss can account for 50% of the lameness risk in post-calving cows.”

Longer term implications can include poorer fertility, plus an increased likelihood of lameness due to thinning of the digital cushion in the hoof. In fact, studies carried out by Nottingham University have shown that BCS loss can account for 50% of the lameness risk in post-calving cows.

Cow condition evaluation

“So start by objectively scoring all cows for body condition and mobility to assess the scale of the problem,” Dr Sutcliffe advises. “Use the same person for consistent results, and consult your vet or nutritionist if you’ve any doubts about scoring technique.

“If cows aren’t above BCS 2.5 at peak lactation and on track to reach BCS 3.0 before drying off then additional energy is needed to minimise the negative impact on production, health and fertility. Just be careful to avoid triggering acidosis in early lactation when ration energy densities are already high.”

“…improving palatability to drive DMI is critical when choosing feeds.”

The energy required to regain 0.5 BCS equates to around 0.75kg/day more dry matter intake (DMI) – equivalent to 1.5-2.0kg FW/day – or a 0.5MJ ME/kg DM lift in ration energy density. According to Dr Sutcliffe, however, the most practical option is usually a combination of the two, which means that improving palatability to drive DMI is critical when choosing feeds.

Increasing energy intake

“One of the best options is to add either a high-lactose or molasses-based liquid feed such as LactoBoost or Molale. This will raise ration energy density, lift DMI – liquid feeds have a low substitution rate – and reduce ration sorting.

“The high sugar breakfast cereal or confectionery blends like SugaRich Dairy are also energy dense, and like liquid feeds will help raise ration sugar levels above the minimum 5% needed to stimulate rumen fermentation of higher fibre silages.

[ caption id = “attachment_623” align = “alignleft” width = “300” ] < a href = “” rel = “attachment wp-att-623” > SodaWheat image SodaWheat is a good source of starch energy that will also help buffer rumen acidity . [ /caption]

“Where silages are more acidic or the ration already contains high levels of rapidly fermentable concentrates, consider KW SodaWheat or the high energy moist feeds like Traffordgold. The slower rate of energy release is good for rumen function and overall feed efficiency.”



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