Five Key Areas for Winter Feeding on Dairy Farms

Forage Quantity and Quality

The starting point in any feed plan is to do an inventory of forage stocks (grass silage, maize. beet etc), then convert the tonnage fresh weight to dry matter to balance this against stock requirements and numbers on the farm. Once you establish a shortfall or deficit then a feed programme can be implemented and what feeds you need to purchase to bridge gaps. Analyse the feeding value of your silage, the target growth rates needed in each group, milk yield expectations and the body condition score of cows and their stage of lactation. With an Abbey Diet Feeder the incorporation of stray and other cost effective local feeds is so easy. 

Dry Cow Nutrition

Nutrition in the 6 weeks pre-calving impacts on both the cows’ and calf’s health – it ensures quality colostrum for the calf, easy calving, and helps to prevent metabolic diseases post-calving. Cows should calve down in a BCS (Body Condition Score) of 3 – 3.5.

They need to maintain their DMI (Dry Matter Intake) of forage, especially in the last 3 weeks pre-calving, as you need to avoid health problems like retained cleansings, milk fever, fatty liver, displaced abomasums, and immunosuprression. 80% of a cows veterinary costs occur at calving or within one month of calving, most of these issues are diet related.

Dry cow TMR, with the correct amount of properly chopped straw precisely mixed through the silage and the right level of magnesium in the diet help to counteract any potassium in the silage. Vitamin and trace element nutrition for the dry cow is important for quality colostrum, calf health and to reduce the risk of uterine infections in cows after calving – thus helping fertility in the next lactation. Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, Selenium and Iodine levels should be maximised in a dry cow mineral. 

Feeding for the First 100 Days of the Lactation 

You want to increase the DMI of cows to maximise mild yields, minimise weight loss, achieve good milk solids, avoid metabolic disease and get the cow back-in-calf. The TMR should satisfy the cow’s appetite, ensure good rumen-fill while supplying the correct energy for her optimum milk output. 

You want to maintain the correct rumen pH and avoid acidosis by getting the long fiber (e.g. straw) content of the diet correct to promote good cud chewing. High conception rates require a well-balanced TMR for protein, energy and fiber as well as good fresh presentation of the TMR daily, with ample feeding space. Introduction of early spring grass is always welcome for improving milk protein and will be complemented by a well-balanced TMR. 

 

Feeding Replacement Heifers Over the Winter Period

You want heifers to calve down at 2 years of age, at 85% of their mature body weight. To achieve this target, you need to maintain good growth rates through the first winter. In order for heifers to be 330kgs at breeding y9ou must balance the TMR to 16% protein. This will depend on the silage analysis and may require an 18% – 20% protein concentrate. Feeding rates of the concentrate blend depends on the DMD of the silage and silage stocks.

Buffer Feeding Cows at Spring Grass

Introducing spring grass to freshly calved cows improves milk protein, as the intake of grass improves and fiber content of grass decreases, then you must adjust the TMR to balance this. Having the correct fiber, energy and protein in the buffer feed to match lush spring grass will promote good cud chewing, minimise scour, maintain butter fats in milk and reduce the effects of SARA (Sub-acute Ruminal Acidosis). Maintaing gut fill and good rumen function on lush spring grass helps to maintain her body temperature, have persistent yields and improve conception per service.