With one in four cull cows reported to leave the herd during the first 60 days of lactation*, dairy farmers are being encouraged to pay closer attention to detail during the dry and transition period.

“Good management and nutrition during the dry period is crucial and will support easier calving, improve immunity and increase milk yield during early lactation,” says Tom Chanter, InTouch feeding specialist.

“However, producers typically focus their attention on the milking herd, which means cows are often poorly prepared for calving and transition into lactation. This prevents cows from achieving yield potential and increases the risk of production diseases which are associated with premature culling.”

He says the dry period must therefore not be overlooked and outlines some key areas for producers to consider when it comes to dry cow nutrition.

“Components of the ration, as well as ration presentation, are both important. A high fibre, controlled energy diet, with a crud protein content of between 13% and 14% is recommended. Producing an optimal chop length, of between 4 and 6 cm for optimum intake and effect from fibre,” he explains.

“Dry cow rations tend to be quite dry which can discourage eating, so ration palatability is key. The optimal dry matter (DM) for a dry cow diet is between 42% to 45%. If the mix is very dry, adding water can be an effective way to overcome this.”

Mr Chanter also says the addition of a live yeast can help prepare the rumen for transition onto the milking ration.

“The inclusion of a live yeast, such as Yea-Sacc, will support rumen bacteria and help promote high intakes post-calving. This will support early lactation yields, enabling producers to capitalise on the high levels milk production efficiency a cow is able to achieve during this period.”

He adds that good mineral nutrition is also critical. “A good calcium status is vital, but high-quality trace elements including selenium, zinc and copper should also be provided. Conducting a mineral analysis of your forage can help ensure the ration is balanced and avoid specific problems such as milk fever, while trace minerals will benefit overall immunity, due to their essential role in a host of body processes.”

When it comes to the form of trace minerals, Mr Chanter advises including organic forms such as Bioplex® and Sel-plex, which are more bioavailable to the cow and can be stored in the tissues ready to be mobilised during times of increased need.

“This is particularly important at times of physiological stress such as calving, as the cow may have a sudden requirement for increased levels of minerals. If not available, cows can be more at risk of metabolic diseases such as ketosis and retained placenta.”