Dairy Transition Feeding & Caring for Calves

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Dan’s operatic performance silenced the crowd.

Recently in partnership with ProviCo and kindly hosted by MG Trading Colac we delivered an informative session on the best practices for transitionary cows. ProviCo’s Tiffany and Janine detailed least stress environments for calf rearing.

The confusion around transitionary cow terms was addressed;

Springer Cow: Cow in the days leading up to calving who is showing signs of mammary development. Once calved, cow is no longer a Springer.

Transition Cow: Four weeks before and four weeks after calving.

Lead Feed: A concentrated, mixed grain ration, not how you manage other feeding elements to the cow’s diet.

Transition Diet: Cow’s full feeding program during the transition phase.. This is important to understand and get right otherwise lead feed won’t have the desired impact. Farmers generally concentrate too much on the lead feed as opposed to the full transition diet.

Generally the percentage of farmers transition feeding increases as farm size increases. These big farm operators recognise the time and cost savings that are delivered by preventing cow ailments through proper transition management. If you milk at 5am, you don’t want to struggle out of bed at 3am through damp, muddy, cold conditions to treat a bunch of downer cows whose symptoms could’ve been prevented.

The benefits of transition feeding are numerous; preventing milk fever, keeping the condition on cows, milk production and tight calving patterns permitted by the prevention of ketosis, left displaced abomasum (LDA) or retained foetal membranes (RFM). Generally 1% in the herd with milk fever is a good target so if there are two hundred cows, two or less should show milk fever. While RFM’s should be less than 4%.

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Tiff from ProviCo in good company.

At calving there are massive impacts on the liver. Over the dry period the liver shrinks up as it’s not being used as much due to the decrease in feed uptake. The liver needs to get match fit when your cow’s return to the milking yard. If it’s not, the animal can’t move volatile fatty acids (VFAs) through the liver quick enough and cant make use of the nutrition being offered, no matter how much she eats and explains why cows continue to lose weight after calving.

Much like the liver the rumen needs time to prepare for a feeding change. The rumen bugs can adapt within 7-days, the rumen’s papillae which export nutrients out of the rumen and into the cow however take 6-weeks. Starch drives this process and can come from a variety of places such as lead feed, potato’s and turnip crops.

This long transitional period for the rumen is why best practice lead feeding is conducted four weeks prior to calving and four weeks after calving.

Cows will eat 30% less prior to calving. That’s why concentrated grains are beneficial, because the cow can eat a small amount at a time (which is all they ever do while pregnant) that delivers all their nutritional needs. Add to this the large energy requirements for mobilising calcium into milk and you begin to sense the benefits of a well managed transition diet. Without transition feeding we can get six weeks into milking and still have the rumen no-where near expected milk production levels.

MG Trading_Lead Feeding_Calf Rearing-2Calf rearing is all about the minimisation of stresses. Elevated stress levels can cause the immune system to drop, exposing the young calf to pathogen intakes. Stress is experienced by the calf through the natural processes of birth and being separated from the mother, so any factors outside of this which can be negated are well advised.

Tiffany and Janine outlined ten key points to better manage newly born calves;

1. Oftentimes the transport between calving pad and calf shed is overlooked for cleanliness. Keep your transport clean and hygenic to prevent infection of the calf.

2. Feed quality colostrum. Measure your colostrum values to ensure the new born calf receives best value inputs from the outset.

3. Bring the milk to the calf and not vice versa. It doesn’t help stress levels when you remove the calf from its pen just to get it to a milk source.

4. Consistency in the milk (i.e. fat, protein, vitamins and minerals). Milk powders can often be of great assistance in maintaining the equilibrium with consistency of nutrient inputs.

5. Provide routine feeding times.

6. House calves in individual pens for the first two weeks of life. This prevents bullying issues at this vulnerable stage.

7.  Keep pens/shed warm, dry and clean.

8. Allow good airflow to calf housing area with air moving above them not onto them.

9. Always provide adequate water levels.

10. Introduce only one changed condition at a time.

By doing things poorly at the start of life we’re making it difficult to set them up as prime producers later in life. So take the time to make some wise investments in providing ideal conditions.

Congratulations to all prize winners on the day.

First Prize:- Virginia Greene (800kg of Calf Rearer 25kg bags -$600.)

Second Prize:- David beluga (Fortimilk Green 9kg – $255.)

Third Prize:- Narelle Bennett (Calf Care Electrolyte 4kg – $60.)

Fourth Prize:- BJ & L Meade (Profe Start Probiotic Gel 80ml – $36.)

Fifth Prize:- Rob (Calf Care Energy Plus Gel 30ml – $17.)

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Not many got the memo on holding up the sign.

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