Dry Cows: Do They Need Mineral Supplements?

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The majority of dairy farmers feed supplemental Macro and Trace minerals as part of their milking herd concentrate feeding program, and many will also provide these through a “lead feed” supplement in the 2-3 weeks prior to calving. But what about the 4-6 week period between dry off and when the cows are moved to the “Springer” paddock? In most cases this is a period where our cows go without any form of mineral supplementation. But should they?

The Dry period is one of relatively low stress on the cow provided that their energy requirements are being met, and their mineral requirements can be supplied relatively easily during this period. However, we must keep in mind that this is also the phase leading up to the most stressful stage of the lactation cycle: calving. Therefore good management through the dry period is important in setting the cow up for a successful lactation. Trace minerals play a critical role in minimising the negative effects of stress and it is important the cow has good reserves of trace minerals to help her through the transition period. Trace mineral status during the dry period is also important for calf health as the trace mineral status of newborn calves is dependent on the transfer of minerals across the placenta during pregnancy and colostrum trace mineral concentration.

The following table compares the requirements of some of the key Macro and Trace minerals during the dry period against what is typically contained in some commonly used feeds:

The table above shows that most of the feeds commonly fed in Australian farm systems supply roughly the required mineral intake for the average dry cow, however it can be seen that some feeds do not supply adequate amounts of some key minerals. Also it must be remembered that the values in the above table are typical values only, and individual feed samples can vary greatly from the average. Without having a feed analysis for mineral content we can’t be certain that our dry cows will be receiving the supply of minerals that they require for optimal cow health. It may be worth considering feeding some form of supplement during the dry period, especially in the high performance herds given that a moderate deficiency in a trace mineral with a role in immune function (such as Copper, Selenium and Zinc) compromises the immune system, increasing the risk of health disorders.

The challenge for many farms will be finding a method of delivering a supplement without feeding it through the dairy shed feed system or mixer wagon. Mineral lick blocks are one option, or there are several “free choice” weather resistant mineral products commercially available. To ensure that your dry cows are set up to fire next lactation talk to one of Reid Stockfeeds’ Nutritionists.

 

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