Colostrum – Your Herd’s and Your Future

This article is based on and draws from a presentation by Mike van Amburgh, professor at Cornell University, delivered to the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar 2018.

Our dry cow is not producing IgG’s, she’s producing colostrum. Colostrum is far more than potential immune transfer to the new born calf. When the cow dries off there are many things going on in her mammary glands. Enormous amounts of cell proliferation driven by ‘growth factors’ and hormones that end up in colostrum. Our checking of colostrum quality for specific gravity (thickness) or with a Brix meter has ignored this massive physiological activity.

For example; the hormone relaxin. Reproductive physiologists working with pigs discovered a female piglet who receives relaxin in its first meal is likely to have a larger uterus and be more fertile than a piglet that does not receive relaxin. Our concern for protein, fat and immunoglobulins overlooks the litany of other ingredients such as: steroids, lactoferrin, insulin, glucagon, prolactin, growth hormone, IFG-1, leptin, TGF-alpha, cortisol and estradiol. These are all bioactive and drive metabolism.

In a research project at Cornell, calves fed 2 lts of colostrum were matched against those receiving 4 lts. Their diets were identical after this colostrum administration. The 4 lt colostrum calves had a 6 kg higher weaning weight than the 2 lt group. At 80 days old, the calves that gained 120 g more daily (4 lt group), had higher hip height implying they used dietary nutrients more efficiently. What colostrum did was set them up to be better animals.

Research has identified, various components of colostrum elicit biological responses, enhancing protein synthesis, increased enzyme expression and increased gastrointestinal tract development. This equates to more lean tissue while increased enzyme activity increases digestive capacity. Increased gastrointestinal tract enables more area to absorb nutrients and provides a better barrier to protect the calf from disease causing organisms and a better immune system.

From our own observations, ensuring adequate protein in the transition diet of the dam is critical for production of very high quality colostrum.

The calves that received 4 lts of colostrum had higher circulating glucose which continued for several days. Van Amburgh suspected this was due to higher intake of insulin at first feed. Insulin is responsible for the transport of glucose and there is a correlation between insulin and passive transfer of Ig for immunity. Although Ig absorption reduces dramatically within 24 hrs post-birth, for the benefit of the multitude of other beneficial ingredients in colostrum, it is recommended to feed colostrum for four days.

Following our setting up of our calves with 4 lts of high quality colostrum, then follows supplying adequate energy to take full advantage of the start we’ve given that calf; and there a few surprises in this.

In a thermo-neutral environment, a 40 kg calf requires 6.7 MJME of energy/day. However, at freezing point, that jumps to 13.5 MJME of energy – DOUBLE! A surprise to me was the knowledge of, and effect of skin to body weight ratio. A Jersey calf has 20% more skin surface area to body weight than a Holstein. Mother knows best: the Jersey dam puts higher fat into her infant formula. However, it is no wonder if we feed a Jersey calf 20:20 milk replacer it does not do well.

So what does all this add up to at the business end? Meta-analysis over a large number of heifers showed a 1,540 lts higher milk production in first lactation from additional daily gain prior to weaning. This is dramatic, and when compared to improved milk production from genetic gain, the figures are astounding, especially when this is a simple management issue: the data showed a 22% variation between the 2 lt and 4 lt colostrum calves in first lactation compared to 7% from genetic selection. This comes as no surprise because we know full well, feeding a dairy cow well has far greater impact on milk production and profit than genetics.

The dam is sending information in the form of colostrum components to set up her calf for a successful life. Unfortunately, our human intervention can certainly short-circuit this process. Our focus on both quality of colostrum and adequate volume administration probably borders on one of our best investment.


Water For Calves

Water is THE most important nutrient for calves. It is required for all of life’s processes including digestion, metabolism of nutrients, elimination of waste material and excess heat, and mineral ion balance. To enhance water intake, clean fresh water is a must daily.

Successful weaning is our goal, and development of the rumen for digestion of solid feed enables this. Water is essential for rumen development and fermentation of grain. Unlike milk, water consumed is directed by the oesophageal groove into the rumen, not the abomasum as with milk. Water is necessary for growth of digestive bacteria for fermenting grain. Research has shown greater weight gain in calves offered free choice water as opposed to water in milk or replacer. Calves are 70 – 75% water. Any compromised water access will have severe effects on growth, rumen development and possible death. Dehydration signs include: dry mouth and nose, tacky gums, depression, irregular pulse and cold legs and ears.

A pre-weaned calf require 3 litres of water to consume 1 kg of calf grain. To wean a calf, we need her drinking 8 – 10 litres of water to consume 2 – 2.5 kgs of calf grain. When she is consuming this amount of grain you can be confident the rumen is well enough developed for digesting solid feed and the calf can be weaned. Post-weaning, this ratio increased to 4 lts/kg of solid feed and remains so into adulthood. As atmospheric temperature rises to 21C, water consumption will increase by 33%, and past 32C it will double.

Factors affecting water quality, and hence intake, nutrient value of powdered milk and electrolyte, include, organic matter (odor & taste), physiochemical properties (pH, total dissolved solids) soluble salt & hardness, excess of minerals and bacteria. High total solids can force water out of body cells dehydrating the calf (osmolarity). Calves cannot tolerate excess sodium levels, or elevated mineral content. Bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella may be present in poor quality water.

Warm water (body temp) is very beneficial. Cold water can drop the temperature of the rumen for up to one hour. Warm water saves energy to restore rumen temperature. Research demonstrating improved health performance in calves with water cleaned by reverse osmosis verifies the necessity for high quality water to achieve optimum growth and development.

Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.


Today’s Cow

Today’s cows have genetic drive to produce milk at all costs

An analogy I like to use to highlight this issue is: grandpa used power kero to fuel his 35 Fergie. Why don’t we run our ‘genetically improved’ 200 hp Fendt on power kero? (Forget the AdBlue). The answer every dairy farmer knows. So why do we fuel our ‘Fendt genetic’ cows on 1950’s diets expecting ‘Fendt’ performance? Grandpa had very few fresh cow problems. But grandpa was on a roll at 10 lts from fresh cows. Back to the 35 Fergie/Fendt analogy and the fuel.

Mike Hutjens, dairy professor extraordinaire, has a favourite saying; “Dry matter intake (DMI) solves a lot of problems”. This applies across the board; fresh cow, joining cow, lactating cow and dry cow. And all from the same problem, Negative Energy Balance (NEB). When cows are mobilising body fat we get a cascade of metabolic problems, in both dry and fresh cows.

This article however, is interested in DMI pre and post calving. There is very scant evidence that milk production per se contributes to greater disease incidence at or around calving. Grandpa’s transition management consisted of putting dry cows in the back paddock and checking once a week to if any had calved, or died! I vividly recall trying to outrun week old calves. The evidence is in the pending knee and hip replacements.

In our ‘Fendt’ age transition, we measure dry matter intake by strip grazing pasture and offering hay/silage adlib and recording hay/silage consumption. By this method we can measure energy, fibre and protein intakes and adjust strip fence size accordingly. Oh, and we do this daily, not weekly. The goal with dry cows is they dry off in calving BCS and do not gain or lose weight pre-calving. Either will precipitate calving problems, NEB especially, which invites all other issues.

To quote the science, cows that mobilise body fat, or increase it, through this period will experience lower dry matter intake before and after calving inducing NEB, disease from impaired immune function (mastitis, metritis etc), increase indicators of inflammation in blood reducing fertility as well as other cell damage from oxidative stress.

I personally, am not a fan of BCS scoring as it always seems like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Managing the diet to prevent this is far more proactive, and less costly. I have written previously of the immense fertility gains from managing calcium and protein intake through the dry cow (and springer) phase, but general mineral nutrition is equally important at this time too. We use self-feed minerals for this purpose.

As we move closer to calving, the twenty one days of springer cow management, we have an excellent tool to assist in getting blood calcium levels right. Monitoring urine pH. This will mitigate the vast majority of our calving, and post-calving problems when coupled with rising dry matter intake post calving for a cow that has no clinical or sub-clinical milk fever. Our management of urine pH can determine the cow’s future. There is no happy plateau here. It is a rapid spiral; either up or down! She is going to be highly productive and fertile, or a sixty day cull statistic (or worse, a carry-over).

Milk fever, clinical or sub-clinical, has a Siamese twin called ketosis, clinical or sub-clinical, and they go everywhere together. Fortunately, we have another wonderful tool for managing ketosis as well. Milk keto test strips. Simply strip milk onto the keto test strip on day three post-calving and drench with propylene glycol if she registers any BHBA reading on the strip.

We have a number of clients by virtue of their computerised rotary dairies, that simply feed 25 ml of propylene glycol on top of their bale feed for 20 days. All done automatically and discontinued automatically as the fresh cow passes the twenty day threshold on the computer.

A brutal measure of transition efficiency/success is the sixty day cull rate. The goal should be less than 5% fresh cows leaving the herd before sixty days-in-milk, and less than 3% deaths in this same category, a total of 8% exits by chopper truck or knackery truck.

Back to our dry cow. She is capable, even in a low energy diet, of consuming 40% to 80% more energy than required, although, grandpa’s back paddock transition management in drier times of the year, the reverse was usually true. The variations in energy intake through differing seasons are massive. As above, both beckon calving problems. High fibre diets that meet energy and protein requirements are the goal. Dry cow rumen regeneration thrives on high fibre diets.

With all our advances in dairy science and analytical assays, we still cannot pass up grandpa’s ‘acid test’ of diet and cow’s health; the age-old husbandry skill of observing manure. The test offers instant feedback. Manure is the window of the rumen. It does not tell us much about NEB, sub-clinical milk fever or ketosis, but we have those covered, but it certainly tells us when rumen function has gone awry. Any dysfunction of the digestive tract will derail our best efforts in all other transition management activities.

Those ‘Fendt genetic’ cows will milk themselves to death if we do not manage their needs. Grandpa’s cows just dried themselves off when he failed to meet their needs.

John Lyne is a dairy production specialist with Dairytech Nutrition

Dry Cows Need Protein

We have made significant advances in recent years in transition nutrition. Lead Feed grain mixes with anionic inclusion especially, to minimise milk fever and ketosis. However, dry cow nutrition is still a major issue as research uncovers this period as also having major influence on problems at calving, fertility and whole of lactation performance.

In drier months with pasture lacking, crude protein requirement can be severely limiting in both the dry and springer phase. The calf experiences 70% of its growth in the last 60 to 70 days of pregnancy. Unborn calves are fed protein via the umbilical cord, not energy per se. This demand on the dam, if her diet is protein deficient, will cause her to mobilise protein from muscle tissue.

Ensuring adequate protein, especially soluble protein (rumen degradable) during dry months, can be done with grass silage. Hay generally only has around 25% soluble protein, whereas silage can be 65% soluble protein. Lupins can be another source of soluble protein, but limitations apply to amount fed.

Our new born calf’s future rests on colostrum intake. This applies not only to supplementary immunity until the calf develops its own immunity, but also a wide variety of other substances contained in colostrum. Many of these substances are proteins, like IgG. A deficiency of protein pre-calving is going to place a ceiling on the calf’s lifetime production, health and fertility; in short, her value to your farm business for many years to come.

Colostrum needs to be collected as soon as possible post-calving. Research has shown IgG concentration has decreased by 33% in 14 hours post-calving. Likewise, administration of four litres to the new born calf as soon as possible post-calving to avoid a similar deterioration in absorption capacity of IgG, and other protein compounds found in colostrum.

A growing trend both overseas and now in Australia, is pasteurization of colostrum to remove the threat of bacterial contamination. Bacterial contamination will not just feed the calf threatening bacteria, but the quality of colostrum also deteriorates in the presence of bacterial.

Colostrum also contains growth as well as immune modulating compounds including peptide hormones, growth factors, cytokines, steroid hormones and enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids energy, lactose, vitamins and minerals, all essential for a new productive life. Mineral nutrition of our dry/springer cow is also essential to provide these colostrum ingredients. We manufacture a self-feed Loose-Lick mineral preparation to aid in dry cow vitamin and mineral nutrition.


Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.

Calf Scours

In a recent paper, Professor John Middleton, University of Missouri, stressed prompt treatment was of greater importance than cause of the scour. Calf scours in the first 30 days are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. The primary reason for calves becoming sick is dehydration. The agents causing the scour will be addressed by the calf’s immune system, however weak or strong that may be, the immune response will cause inflammation of the gut which in turn will cause the loss fluids and electrolytes.

The key to survival is addressing the dehydration. Hydrate and replace electrolytes with a commercial electrolyte product. Be diligent in mixing electrolytes following the manufacturer’s instructions. Too strong an electrolyte or weak solution will cause cell damage through either dehydration of cells or excessive rehydration. Both can cause cell death.

The invading bacteria, viruses or parasites are usually ingested from manure-oral contact. This can never be completely eliminated, but management of calving areas is a critical priority during calving. Calving pads, ‘springer paddocks’ both need to be as free as possible of manure and placental material to minimise potential contact with the calf’s mouth. Muddied teats from which a calf will attempt to gain immunity via colostrum can easily be nullified by pathogens on the dam’s teats. Even calves licking the dam’s flank or udder has the same potential. Abundant evidence of this pathogen risk is well documented in the research of the benefits of pasteurization of colostrum and fresh calf milk to eliminate degradation of colostrum and its passive transfer capacity.

Feeding areas of calving sites are always the high risk areas. In the case of calving pads, keeping this area clean will reduce the risk to our new born calf, but also reduce fresh cow mastitis infections. In ‘springer paddocks”, regular shifting of feeders also minimises the same two infection potentials.


Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.

Managing Margins

Anyone who has been in dairy farming for twenty years or more knows full well, the margins we once had don’t exist today. What we thought were ‘tough times’, we now realise were luxury margins. When I started share farming in the early “70’s”, costs, including finance costs, were benchmarked at 30% of farm income.

The range of margins across farms has always been variable in line with management and debt, multiplied by a whole raft of variables beyond farmer control. We tend to focus far too much on the influences over which we have no control, weather and milk price being the dominant stressors. This leaves us with influences that are within our control.

I’ve have written many times, the two drivers of farm profit are feed and fertility. Feed drives milk production and income, and fertility drives a herd’s capacity to utilize feed in conversion to milk. This is determined by a herd’s average days-in-milk. Obviously the more fresh cows we have in a herd the higher the milk production will be, provided feed is offered to enable our cow to consume to capacity. This is compounded by cows in early lactation possessing greater feed conversion efficiency.

Below these two pillars of farm profitability lay a variety of ‘foundational’ issues we do have control over, to a large degree. Whenever I go to my banks teller machine to draw cash, it comes up with a statement that 37% of farmers, or a similar, agree agtech is the way of the future. I would question this statement. If we do not have these foundational issues under control, no technology under the sun is going to make one iota of difference to a downer cow!

I guess you know where I’m heading now. I’m no financial wizard to advise on slick accounting techniques to improve your margin.

Sick cows cost money. We track a number of performance indicators on our clients’ farms around feeding efficiency. As any of my nagged clients will tell you I get highly repetitive, especially on dry matter intake, as the key to all else. None of the indicators we study are visible through normal accounting analysis of farm businesses, and therefore, pass under the radar completely unknown, evaporating the gap between feed cost and milk income.

Although the sick cow is thought to be visible, with improved nutrition, especially in transition, clinical milk fever rates have plummeted over the last twenty years. This is very positive, but research knows full well, as is often the case in life, the visible issues were only the tip of the iceberg. Subclinical disease is by far the greatest thief of farm profit and attracts little interest because of its non-visible status.
The non-visible, subclinical milk fever, is usually where the ‘train wreck’ starts, then, precipitates a trail of further metabolic diseases, often referred to as the ‘cascade effect’ of milk fever. Some of these secondary diseases remain under the radar just holding back our cow from rapidly increasing DM intake immediately post-calving and induce ketosis.

By now we have a compromised immune system incapable to dealing with pathogen entering the mammary system even under normal farm conditions. Mastitis plays havoc with fertility due to systemic inflammation from mediators sent out by the immune system to address the infection. Immunosuppression enables metritis to establish. Compromised blood calcium status can trigger LDA’s.

Any or all of these disease scenarios will hamper feed intake, limiting milk production at a stage she was at her greatest potential for whole of lactation production. The likelihood of further disease limitation to both milk production and fertility are high. Subclinical ketosis is well researched as to increase risk factor to other metabolic disease, fertility and recent, although early work at Cornell (USA) indicates ketosis in this lactation will reduce milk production in subsequent lactations, and possibly, whole of life production.

Transition management has potential to make or break our margins and justifies every effort to micro manage cow nutrition through this phase. Following are some costings of disease, commonly seen around calving; 1) Mastitis $420, 2) Lameness $330, 3) Retained Placenta $320, 4) LDA $650, 5) Ketosis $180, 6) Milk Fever $250

From this list it would not be hard to list a few disorders that would completely wipe out a cow’s lactation margin.

Managing Margins is managing transition. Fertility will be a serendipitous outcome. That only leaves feed supply to meet our fresh cow’s appetite to complete successful margin management.

Dry cow/springer cow nutrition is number one in prevention strategies. Tools are available to assist, especially springer cow and fresh cow. Urine pH strips will tell you the springer ration DCAD is or isn’t correct. Milk Keto test strips to monitor for ketosis in fresh cows and alert to the need for treatment. These two on-farm tests can save thousands of dollars of farm margin.

John Lyne is a dairy production specialist with Dairytech Nutrition

Dairies Run on Calcium

In recent years I’ve become more concerned with just what are we doing in our dairy farming. Certainly we’ve made advances in milk production per cow, dry matter harvested per hectare, but I see from time to time some disturbing signs while inspecting herds on my client’s farms. Soil issues, plant pest problems, both of which have driven me to reading appropriate material on these and other problems in cow health and performance, especially fertility.

With so many dramatic changes occurring in technology, machinery, computer recording, plant breeding, I do wonder about farming practices of my youth that I rarely see these days. Of course, the one I’m think most about is “ag lime’. In fact, spreading lime on paddocks has been around longer than anyone reading this article.

I see an inversion here – no lime but more nitrogen. Many crops and pastures are limited in yield due to acid soils. This inversion has multiplied the acid soil issue, and further compounded it by depleted sulphur from extended urea use and no supplementary sulphur. I am certainly not an agronomist, nor a soil microbiologist, but it does not take their level of understanding to realise we have soil health/productivity problems. I suspect soil microbiology does not do its vital task of feeding plants when soil pH is compromised.

I am advised, as soil pH drops below 6, the availability of some nutrients declines, especially phosphorous, but also magnesium to a lesser extent. Other nutrients can elevate enough in availability to become toxic to some crops/plants. We have seen decolourisation in sorghum leaves identified as nutrient deficiencies when fertiliser requirements had been met.

It requires 200 kgs of lime to counter 50 kgs of nitrogen in terms of soil pH. Ammonium sulphate is more acidifying than other nitrogen sources, and can require 350 kgs of lime to counter50 kgs of nitrogen from ammonium sulphate.

Turnip crops have grown in popularity in recent years, and I can’t encourage this crop enough. The Income Over Feed Cost we see when turnip is a ration ingredient, especially at a time when milk price is rising rapidly, makes them a highly beneficial exercise. However, turnip is a very capable scavenger of calcium from soils. Although in our turnip program we recommend 2.5 tonne of lime per hectare (gypsum is even better to replenish soil sulphur reserves), it is not regularly done. Turnip has multifaceted benefits in dairy cow rations.

Obviously it is a high energy source with bulbs up to 40% sugar. It is highly digestible, around 76% in 30 hrs (rate of passage of feed through the digestive tract does influence dry matter intake), and bulbs are around 17% crude protein and leaves 25% crude protein. When we are deficient in fresh pasture, turnips can supply significant protein to an otherwise, frequently, protein deficient diet.
However, this is not the last word on turnip. Our dairy cows have a high need for dietary calcium. Turnips, due to their calcium scavenging capacity, are an excellent source of calcium. We have tested turnip leaf at 3.5% calcium and bulbs at 1+% calcium. To put this in perspective, ryegrass averages around 0.3% calcium. We cannot feed anywhere near our cows calcium requirement via limestone in grain mixes.

Calcium is critical to virtually every metabolic function within a cow, especially immune function; let alone what she ships out on the milk tanker daily. We have learnt from experience, an enhanced calcium intake in dry and springer cows has profound influence on fertility. When the dry/springer cow’s calcium requirement has been met, we have recorded, on multiple occasions, rises from 30% conception on first insemination to 65% conception on first insemination. This is a staggering increase, and following on from January’s article on pregnancy rates, and their equal influence on farm profit to feed availability, calcium nutrition cannot be ignored.

Restoring forage, or forage species high in calcium is a must for cow health and performance, but we will gain in soil health and performance also. Turnips are a seasonal opportunity for dietary calcium intake, restoration of clover in pasture swards will benefit ryegrass production as well as increasing calcium content in grazed pasture. We have severely degraded our soils over the last forty years, especially with excessive use of urea, and to my observation, diminishing benefit, partially through depleted sulphur reserves, but also reducing soil pH.

To compound the soil acidification problem, we have also compacted soils further reducing their productive capacity. A return to a balance of clover and ryegrass will slowly improve ryegrass root penetration to access moisture and nutrient currently out of reach. Clover is a deep rooted plant and will penetrate ‘hard pans’ we regularly identify in paddocks with use of a penetrometer.

Deep ripping may be necessary in particularly compacted soils, but as a crop specialist friend in the USA says, “ripping a paddock of bricks only ends up with a paddock of broken bricks”. More is needed, and cropping programs have very significant impacts on soil productivity. We recommend a two year cropping program as part of a seven year pasture renovation program. Multiple crops throughout the seasonal variations enhance soil productivity. Different crops (summer crops and winter crops) remove and deposit substances that have mutually synergetic benefits, but all contributing to pasture growth when sown back to perennials.

The dramatic increased use of insecticides has a correlation to compromised plant health. Healthy plants contain insect repellents in their leaves. Further, insecticides cause a rise in soluble sugars and nitrogen in plants, the food of insects, so we only multiply our problem.

Pregnancy Rate


As premature as this subject may seem in January, it has been well determined that the two drivers of farm profitability are; feed and pregnancy rate. The percentage of fresh cows in your herd each year will largely determine your milk production, assuming they have the feed to express their genetic potential and post-calving disposition to milk production.

The feed scenario we address in July/August for our clients in the form of a Feed Budget, carefully designed in consultation with the client, and based on the previous twelve months feed/production data. This article is focused on the pregnancy side of this dual profit driver. Once cows have calved, passed through the immediate post-calving phase and hopefully back in-calf, our focus then shifts to next lactation, without compromising the current one.

As distant as next joining maybe for many farms, our success with pregnancy rates, and viability, begins once our cow is confirmed pregnant this lactation. Planning now, as to how we are going to execute a breeding program, will include decisions regarding heat detection, choice of timed AI or natural presentation, nutrition, both pre and post calving and prevention/management of metabolic disorders at calving. A well-documented plan can contribute very significantly to a successful joining. In fact, these issues are quoted as contributing up to 96% of conception variations.

Obviously, our cow needs to dry-off in calving BCS. This means, no weight gain or loss during the dry phase. Recent research opinion has stated shorter dry periods (30 to 40 days) do produce earlier first heats and improved fertility. Long dry spells (greater than 100 days) are associated with poorer fertility. From personal experience, you must be very confident of calving dates to optimise shorter dry periods.

Much has been written, by me and many others, on transition nutrition. Best practice in this area has not changed a great deal for many years, verifying its validity. Maximising dry matter intake of a well-balanced diet fortified with sound mineral balance, calcium especially, and managed for Dietary Cation Anion Difference (DCAD). In regard to fertility, we have seen dramatically improved conception rates under controlled calcium nutrition through both the dry period and transition.

Sound nutrition and environmental conditions at calving can minimise uterine infection and dystocia which research has identified as possibly causing 60% of lost pregnancies in the first 60 days of gestation. High Rumen Degradable Protein (RDP) diets are also a cause of early fetal death.

Post-calving metabolic disorders certainly influence fertility and pregnancy rate. Milk fever/ketosis, but far more importantly, sub-clinical milk fever/ketosis, will hand string milk production dramatically, let alone conception. We have for a number of years drenched every cow at calving with propylene glycol, and our testing of milk with ketos test strips has validated this procedure as very effective.

I am impressed with controlled breeding through timed AI programs. It leaves little to chance and human observation as guidance to breeding, and coupled with 42 day post-insemination pregnancy testing are a powerful tool to manage pregnancy rate. Postnatal vet checks to ensure cows are clean and cycling we’ve done since the 1980’s.

If farmer insemination is part of either timed AI or natural presentation, much can be said for refresher courses on technique and semen handling. A client of ours attended a fertility course in the USA and was shocked by ‘marginal’ variations from protocols having significant effect on conception.

Many farms now use software to manage farm data, but especially breeding details. Most programs are capable of extracting performance data on breeding. This information is essential for review of procedures when less-than-optimum results occur.

Mastitis between calving and joining is well researched as a cause of conception failure. Mastitis between insemination and 42 days post-insemination has a very high mortality rate on early term pregnancies. Transition nutrition and calving environment play major roles, combined with dry cow therapy and teat seal in minimising post-calving mastitis incidence. Milking machine maintenance has also revealed on several farms its impact in mastitis control.

Good fertility breeds good fertility, and many other profit benefits. The client with the highest fertility, averaging around 60% conception on one insemination, soon had abundant replacement heifers. Over the last couple of years of high beef prices, and abundant young stock, he has culled ruthlessly, any repeat breeders, repeat mastitis, repeat lameness, and done quite nicely in his beef (culling) marketing enterprise. As one of my sons says; we are beef farmers who milk cows to pay the bills. Our profit is determined by a cow’s exit value!

A recent article from the USA on a dairy enterprise that has adopted a program of using sexed semen on all heifers, due to greatly improved conception rates, and beef semen on all third, fourth and greater lactation cows. They market the beef cross calves to a lucrative, high demand, grower market.

At my age, “To Do Lists” are as much a part of my life as eating and breathing. Failure of the to-do-list has about the same effect as not eating or breathing. The fertility issue is equally important to your farm’s viability and a well thought through and written plan can make a world of difference. We will address many of these issues in more detail in future articles. The other half of the profit matrix, feed, we’ll also address in regard to Feed Budgets in July/August.

John Lyne is a dairy production specialist with Dairytech Nutrition

Only One Chance (Growing Out Heifers)


Adequate nutrition of growing heifers can be a challenge over summer months when ample quality pasture is not available. Frequently low protein diets through this period can limit frame and muscle growth rates. Well grown heifers that conceive on time can go on to be highly productive dairy cows; but if they do not meet these criteria it is a lost lifetime opportunity. There is no such thing as a ‘catch-up phase’.

Around puberty between eight to ten months of age heifers should reach hip height of 1.2 meters. For joining at thirteen months, they should weigh 360+ kgs and achieve a hip height of 1.30 to 1.35 meters. A target of 85% of heifers pregnant within three cycles requires an average of 1.7 services per conception.

So where do we lose it, especially over summer? As above, inadequate protein certainly is a handicap to growth. For the goal of lifetime production, it is critical that heifers achieve the above growth goals.

Achieving timely pregnancy, especially in seasonal or group calving patterns, is very dependent on vitamin and mineral nutrition. It’s a real gamble relying on forages to supply necessary vitamins and minerals due to both content and bioavailability of both in forages. Supplementation is essential to meet growing heifers’ needs. Where a grain supplement containing a sound vitamin/mineral mix is not feed through the two years from birth to calving, supplementing with a ‘self-feed’ vitamin/mineral mix is essential. Dairytech Nutrition manufactures an all-weather loose lick product for this purpose and has excellent feedback on heifer development and fertility.

Supplementation of Vitamins A, D3 & E , trace minerals of zinc, manganese, cobalt, iodine, and selenium are well documented (NRC 2001) to improve ovarian function and embryo quality. Research shows eight fewer days open and 0.5 fewer services per conception with higher pregnancy rates. Macro elements of magnesium, phosphorous, sulphur, calcium and salt tend to be more involved with growth and skeletal development, but not limited to this. Our ryegrass pastures are very low in calcium especially, a strong argument apart from soil health, to reinstate clovers in our pastures.

Any production animal’s value will rest on a balanced diet. However, it needs to be noted, that, a pregnant animal with an unbalanced or deficient diet will provide the same to the developing foetus. Too often, heifers are left to their own resources on out-blocks or agistment, not just compromising their growth and development, but also, another generation in the unborn calf. Nutrition during pregnancy becomes even more important to meet both heifer and developing calf’s needs for macro and micronutrients.

As a generalisation, pasture is a reasonably well balanced diet for energy, fibre and protein. However, the variations in pasture can be wide as we see in lactating cow diets throughout the year, and even between farms at any given time; no more so than through spring when diets frequently become grass and grain.

Summer pastures generally require supplementation, not just for quality, but more so quantity. Silage certainly can meet this void, but as above, supplementation with self-feed vitamin/mineral loose licks is essential to meet their deficiencies/availabilities in forages. Our heifers, to enjoy longevity as lactating cows, require these nutrients, but so too the developing calf. With sound nutrition, calves are more likely to have healthy birthweights and a strong start to life.

Managing body condition through the heifers first two years has lifelong production and fertility consequences. Adequate energy and protein are essential for a balanced diet. Over conditioned heifers are generally deficient in protein and lack growth of muscle tissue and frame, assuming minerals nutrition is not inadequate. During the months prior to first calving it is essential body condition be well managed. Like dry cows, any over-conditioning or under-conditioning will precipitate energy related disorders of ketosis and displaced abomasum.

Both over-conditioned and under-conditioned heifers will not perform well due to prolonged negative energy balance. Calves from under-conditioned heifers are typically less vigorous.

Well-grown heifers become high performing cows with high dry matter intakes post-calving that persist well into lactation. Fertility and health are serendipitous outcomes of high performance induced in the previous two years of growth and development.

We have the genetics in our herds for far superior performance than Dairy Australia data reveals. Studies at Purina Animal Nutrition Centre (USA) highlighted that high performance can be achieved with longevity and no ‘burnout’. Managing our heifer’s development has significant long-term benefits to the viability of individual farm businesses, but also our industry.

A Wet Harvest

There are two critical issues, and damaging effects, from wet paddocks and possible higher moisture silage. 1) Compaction of soils, 2) Quality loss in silage due to adverse conditions.

Early this year we purchased a Penetrometer to assess how much soil compaction we had on our clients typical grazing dairy farms. Although results were very variable, there certainly was ample evidence of serious soil compaction on many farms. In conjunction with a colleague in the USA who specialises in crop rotations to improve soil productivity, we have been advocating crop systems to this goal, and to increase dry matter harvested from existing farms.

Our soil compaction problems arise from farm practices of the last fifty years including stocking rates, weight of machinery, and a lack of cropping options in favour of monoculture pasture stands. The loss of clovers from our pastures has had significant effect on compaction due to the lack of clover’s deep rooting. Cropping rotations leave dead root matter in soils breaking down to organic matter, a critical element for soil life.

Mechanical compaction takes seconds to do, but decades to recover. If repeated mechanical compaction occurs with machinery, soil life is severely restricted, reduces yields, and likely will never recover. Permanent yield reduction. For those who wish to pursue more on this problem, go to the follow link.

Threats to silage in wet conditions The first risk due to moisture and stress, is moulds and mycotoxins. Refer to our previous post. With sunlight, plant sugars rise rapidly, and the use of a quality silage inoculant is sound management under perfect conditions, but in wet conditions not to use inoculant will allow wild (’natural’) bacteria to do your fermenting rather than controlled fermentation achieved by a quality lactic acid bacterial inoculant. Nobody sows ‘natural’ seed and expects a pure ryegrass pasture.

Trial work conducted by Tom Kilcer (Advanced Ag Systems – Cornell University), control silage (no inoculant) had higher lignin (indigestible) than treatment silages. This indicated the control silage suffered considerable more dry matter converted to CO2 and water and so was lost. Mike Van Amburg (Cornell University) reported from trial work at Cornell, that inoculated silages had significantly higher net energy and digestibility rates than uninoculated silages. From digestibility alone, this equates to over 1 litre of milk.

Dr Limin Kung, world authority on inoculant use, although referring to corn silage, but relevant also for grass silage said: “For a wet crop, a homolactic is better…do not use Lactobacillus Buccneri on a very wet corn silage crop – or the odds that you will get an inversion of lactic to acetic (more acetic than lactic) is high. Wet corn silage fermentations will make a lot of acid, and a lot of wild acetic. This may cause issues at feed out.”

There is also a high risk of mud contamination of silage. Mud can contain high levels of clostridia bacteria and produce a failed fermentation breaking down dry matter, often to little more than compost.

PASTURE GOLDTM Bacterial Silage Inoculant

PASTURE GOLD silage inoculant is available in granular form for application via Gandy Granular Applicators, or water soluble form. PASTURE GOLD contains two EU registered LAB bacteria plus a preservative bacteria and an enzyme pack for increased digestibility.

PASTURE GOLD is available directly from Dairytech Nutrition or at the following Rural Stores

South West Vic 

Alansford Acme Rural Supplies

Colac The Co-op Colac

Noorat Mt Noorat Farm Supplies

Simpson E & RA Parlours & CO

Terang Scanlon’s Dairy Centre and Terang Co-op


Leongatha Brown’s Stockfeed

Lang Lang Larmax Agribarn

Poowong Poowong Dairy & Hardware

Drouin Evison Grain & Produce

Yarragon Yarragon Rural Supplies

Northern Victoria

Cohuna J & R Cooke Trading P/L

Echuca Kober Ag Intellegence

Kyabram Dunstall Rural Supplies

Girgarre Dunstall Rural Supplies

Leitchville Lipps Leitchville

Tongala GTS Farm Supplies



If there is no rural store stockist near you, call Dairtytech Nutrition 0400 991 814