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Feeding the dry cow

Feeding the dry cow is fundamental to InTouch’s nutrition, and there is on-going research and many different ways of implementing a dry cow diet, all of which should have the same outcome: The cow calves down by herself with no metabolic issues and reaches her peak yield, maintains this and goes back in-calf as quickly as possible.


The InTouch dry cow programme is a controlled energy high fibre diet (CEHF). It is a simple system that provides a single TMR diet throughout the dry cow period. The use of a controlled energy dry cow diet is beneficial for peripartum health, dry matter intake (DMI) and productivity.


To put this into practice, the BCS of the herd is determined, as is her maintenance energy requirement, based on the silage analysis, which is 100MJ or 8.6UFL. DMI should be set and monitored at around 11 kilograms DM and under 12 kilograms DM for Large Holstein herds with adequate protein levels. For further information, contact InTouch. We can advise on best practice and can even monitor DMI.


There has been a lot of silage made this year, and while the temptation is to feed silage only, this will have a detrimental impact on BCS and DMI. Intake will not be controlled, as a dry cow can eat 13–15 kilograms DM from silage alone. Silages are good in general this year, so feeding a 70 DMD silage for 60 days could give more than 130MJ of energy per day. This will result in a high BCS at calving, mentioned above.


To control intakes and dilute quality of silages while maintaining rumen, fill straw is used. This can vary between 2.5–5 kilograms, depending on forage quality. Straw will also help to dilute the potassium, which is common at over 2% in Irish forages. Straw has returned to normal prices this year, so availability should not be an issue. This straw should be chopped from four to five centimetres and care should be taken when processing. Over-processing will promote intakes and under-processing will promote rejection of the ration, sorting and suboptimal intakes.


It is also recommended to include a small amount of protein in the form of soya. This promotes good rumen function, meaning the dungs are not excessively stiff. Studies have also shown that an increase in the protein content of the diet will increase the quality of colostrum. Some form of concentrate is also desired to allow the rumen bacteria to adapt quickly to consume high amounts post-calving.


Survey results from 277 farms and 24,470 cows showed that implementing this diet correctly led to a 60% reduction in metabolic events, such as milk fever, afterbirths and displacements (Colman et al, 2011).