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InTouch | Early Lactation: Beating the Drop

 Early Lactation Beating the Drop

With the “back broken” in the calving season, attention now turns to getting cows to grass, and early-season management of this will pay dividends in the long run. Feed prices have not been kind to us this year, so getting some higher-protein forage into the cows will be a welcome reprieve when supply and conditions allow us to do so.

Measure and manage

Management of supply and demand is important when it comes to grass and recovering the intake of cows and maintaining condition on them this time of year. Keeping cows “happy” or “content” is not enough of a measurement of success. Cows require approximately 0.6–0.7 kg of dry matter (DM) for every litre of milk they produce. Every kilogram fresh of silage is about 0.25 kg DM, and every kilogram fresh of concentrate is around 0.9 kg DM. Do the math and see how much grass they require, or likewise, calculate the amount of grass available and see what level of supplement you require.

Cows milking well or producing phenomenal solid percentages at the moment may give you a false sense of what is truly happening. You might think that the diets are working well or that the silage is feeding great this year, but you will not see a true reflection of the diets and the cows’ performance until about 6 weeks post-calving. This is around the time when a cow has lost the majority of her condition and you are getting into a possible positive energy balance. The condition loss or fat mobilisation over the last 6 weeks has “propped up” the production and solids yield, and the cow will rely on her own diet from now on. This means that the percentage of fat and protein will come back to levels you are more accustomed to seeing. Of course, there is no reason why they cannot go lower, and for this reason, you must do your utmost to make sure they don’t cause further losses in production, which will have knock-on effects on fertility later in the season.

Farms always want better solids, and genetics play a key role in all of this. Whether you are coming from a Holstein, Friesian or cross-bred herd, you should examine your EBI reports in ICBF and see if you have a positive percentage for fat and protein in your breeding. This will tell you, year on year, whether you are naturally increasing or decreasing your solid percentages.

Beat the drop

This could be a long-term project, but focusing on the now is also important. Cow condition and intake, as outlined above, and energy — particularly sugar and starch — will drive protein and fibre, and controlling the oil content from the grass will affect butterfat. Some of these issues are unavoidable, but they can have an even worse effect if the rumen or stomach of the animal is unhealthy and unprepared to deal with these issues. Several ways to prevent this are to avoid overfeeding concentrate in the parlour; using digestible fibre within the concentrate; and using an effective fibre source, like straw, as part of a TMR containing forage where intake is required. The addition of products such as Yea-Sacc will also support rumen health.

A campaign that we focus on — and that you might see over the next few weeks — is called “Beat the Drop,” and it centers around acting earlier to avoid the drop in milk solids. Some of the key features of “beating the drop” include making the necessary changes to your concentrates and management techniques as outlined above to establish a more stable rumen, better production and less waste.