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.

24hr Digestibility – A Key to Profit


Rate-of-passage is a very important concept for both cow health, and especially, feed conversion efficiency – feed dollars to milk dollars. It is also a tension, that is, too fast from very lush pasture or sub-optimal rumen pH, will reduce feed conversion efficiency and increase feed cost per litre significantly, not to mention cow health. Our valuable feed ends up in manure pats in the paddock instead of milk in the vat. Alternately, high fibre feeds such as poor quality/mature silage or hay, will slow down rate-of-passage of feed through the digestive tract, reducing daily feed intake and crashing milk production. In both cases, the feed cost per litre will escalate.

The starting point is always cows’ access to sufficient feed to be fully fed. Then there are two states of being ‘fully fed’. Full to contentment, and physically gut fill. Obviously physical gut fill is the goal of optimum milk production, reduced cost per litre from dilution of maintenance energy cost, and maximised profit which usually is accompanied by cow health.

Assuming cows do have access to sufficient feed, which is not common outside spring, the next limitation is palatability. Feed, be it pasture, summer crops, silage, grain or anything else, must first be highly palatable to achieve potential feed intake. Now back to rate-of-passage.

High fibre feeds spend long periods in the rumen being broken down sufficiently to pass into the abomasum, the true stomach. This reduces rate-of-passage to the extent that feed intake is also reduced with consequent reduction in milk production, higher feed cost per litre, as above, maintenance energy cost per litre, all culminating, and by a multiplier effect, in a crash in profit.

Feed NDF% (Neutral Detergent Fibre – total fibre in any given feed or ration), really does not tell us much as far as predicting milk production and profit from this feed or ration. Digestibility is the key.

Good feed analysis laboratories will supply 24 hr, 30 hr and 240 hr digestibility rates for feeds submitted for testing. Although there is some debate among academics as to which, 24 or 30 hr digestibility rates, are best to predict milk outcomes, my simplistic understanding prefers the 24 hr digestibility data. Why? Because we all work on 24 hr milk production systems to inform us as to how we are producing.

The 24 hr digestibility is telling us how much fibre is still in the rumen from yesterday, and how much that is going to reduce our cow’s feed intake today; and her milk production/profit.

Let’s look at two examples of pasture from our feed test library: 1) Actively growing/short rotation ryegrass – 24 hr digestibility 81.48%, sampled in June 17. 2) Slow growing/long rotation ryegrass – 24 hr digestibility 51.73%, sampled in November 16.

If we fed 10 kgs DM (dry matter) of each pasture to two groups of cows the difference in ryegrass digested and converted to milk would be 1) 8.148 kgs DM, 2) 5.173 kgs DM. Now, to compound the issue, the quality pasture has an ME (energy value) of 10.26 MJME/kg DM. The mature ryegrass has an ME of 9.18 MJME/kg DM.

Now, our cows digesting 8.148 kgs DM of the quality 10 kg DM pasture would convert that to 14.9 lts of milk. The cows consuming 10 kgs DM of the mature pasture and digesting only 5.173 kgs DM would convert that to 8.48 litres of milk. There is $1.57 difference in milk production at 40c/lt between each group of cows! Essentially, $1.57 difference in profit.

The plot thickens: The group of cows consuming the quality pasture will have 1.852 kgs DM fibre still in their rumens tomorrow reducing their feed intake for tomorrow and limiting tomorrow’s milk production by 3.39 lts. The cows consuming the mature pasture will have 4.827 kgs DM fibre remaining in their rumens tomorrow. This reduces their feed intake tomorrow and reduces milk production by 7.91 lts.

Yes this is an extreme example for the purpose of highlighting the influence of 24 hr digestibility, as no forage fibre is 100% digestible in 24 hrs. The lesson stands nevertheless, and has devastating impacts on farm profit from not managing grazing particularly, but even worse, time/maturity stage of cutting pasture for silage’s impact on 24 hr digestibility. We have silage test data on hand with variations in 24 hr digestibility between 77% and 49%.

The Remedies

Pasture: Short rotations of actively growing and regularly re-pastured stands. This is easily done with strategic fertilizer applications and produces healthy plants. Healthy pasture plants then produce healthy soils, there is a synergy here between these two, but it starts with healthy and actively growing plants. A system proven to achieve this is light applications of a complete blend after every grazing – 21 days. Fertilizer can be reduced once soils are health and vital. Fertilizer is always the cheapest feed!

Silage: As above, maturity at cutting is number one. Time between cutting and ensiling is number two (see our article ‘Silage in a Day’ sept 15). Third is a quality lactic acid bacterial silage inoculant containing a proven enzyme pack. Enzymes will break down indigestible fibre converting it to sugars for lactic acid producing bacteria to convert to lactic acid – high palatability/silage intake. This reduction in indigestible fibre will increase 24 hr digestibility and milk production from each kg DM of silage.


Home Grown Feeds and the Profit Matrix


As a general statement, few would dispute home grown feeds are cheapest. However, we need to look at this more closely. Should we talk just feeds per se, or energy? It is energy we convert to milk. We should be discussing the cost of energy in any given feed when deciding what is cheapest. Effectively, feed dollars converted to milk dollars for this is the real determinant of profit.

That’s the simple equation, but from there on it can become quite complicated by debates over the cost of grass, by rates of digestibility (a subject I want to address next month), and by rumen health/function or feed conversion efficiency. We will leave these complications out of this discussion as my goal is to drive forage production on farm to at least validate the mantra of home grown feeds being the cheapest.

Home grown forage may or may not be the cheapest forage, but grain generally stands alone on energy cost. Home grown forage cost depends heavily on the value of the land it is grown on, the yield per annum per hectare, its digestibility and energy density. For our regular monthly clients we can determine grass grazed in tonnes of dry matter (TDM) and collate monthly averages for the full year. We can add to this quite accurately TDM silage, measure summer crops and cost each out. Due to wide variations between farms on the above criteria, we choose to take a mean value for grazed pasture at $250/TDM. This gives us a basis for silage cost, and good comparative data within farms from year to year.

I believe the district average for SW Victoria is in the vicinity 4 to 4.5 TDM/ha pasture harvested (machine or grazed). Yet we are aware of farms where we have measurement from monthly consumption, harvesting 10 TDM/ha and higher. Obviously, there is a massive difference in pasture cost irrespective of additional input cost to achieve this high TDM/ha. There usually is a serendipitous increase in digestibility with higher yielding farms, and this only magnifies the feed to milk dollar conversion potential/profit.

I raise this subject each year around July/August as that is when we prepare Feed Budgets for our clients. It is the most-timely part of the season to do so, so we can plan summer forage crops types/hectares etc., estimate silage requirements including our goal of 50% extra for reserves, based on the previous year’s forage harvested over each farm. Solid silage reserves can insulate us significantly from the many vagaries of season, grain and milk price we are subject to these days. Achieving these silage reserves also come under our summer cropping program with crops such as sorghum.

Over many years of preparing Feed Budgets for clients, compounded by observations, we have come to realise some of the limitations to home grown forage production. Things like compaction – pasture plants pulled up by grazing cows due to shallow rooting. Declining plant densities, and falling yields which are now known to be associated with lack of rotational crops. Differing plant species remove and deposit different things in soil, but all contribute to improved yields. There are synergies to yield through plant rotations. To resolve these impediments to yield we developed a Seven Year Paddock Plan for each of our clients. The goal is to address the above limitations, improve soil health/organic matter and yield capacity. The basic idea is two years in crops, up to three crops per year, then back to pasture for five years.

We believe, based on overseas data, that we can increase home grown forage harvested and hence lower the cost of feed, or rather, the cost of energy harvested/ha, through crop rotations. This principle has been known and practiced, especially by cereal grows, for many years. Both land (due to land value), and cows (due to maintenance energy cost), have fixed costs that can only be diluted to the benefit of profit, by increased yield – either TDM/ha or litres/cow.

Our potential to achieve this in our dairying areas is massive. The next ‘big thing’, we believe. We have clients that have achieved dramatically increased TDM harvested over their farms simply through summer fodder crop programs. We are now taking that to a new level with a more holistic plan spanning seven years. Our goals include improving soil health/productivity through rotational crops, addressing soil compaction, initially mechanically, but further through selecting deep rooted crops. Deep ripping has questions over its effectiveness in the longer term, and possible damage to soil structure, but can certainly open ground to facilitate deeper rooting of crops/plants immediately following.

Rotational cropping has added potential to increase soil organic matter, an issue we think has deteriorated our dairy land’s productivity over the last fifty years. The benefits of increased organic matter on an organic farm we work with showcase this potential. This organic farm nowadays would out yield many conventional farms and has a per cow milk production average 60% higher than the national average.

Crop root systems deposit organic matter in soils. Likewise, stubble from crops, although nitrogen must be available to breakdown residue or new seedlings will suffer retarded growth until plant residue has been broken down. A clover crop through winter can provide excellent high calcium silage for dry and springing cows, but also increase soil N for the following summer crop. We have measured very high turnip yields following a winter clover crop.

Overseas research has demonstrated reduced weed and pest problems through rotational crop programs. As with antibiotics in treating disease/infections in cows, we will be restricted in the use of these and plant protection chemicals in the very near future. Garden enthusiasts know well that various plants protect and encourage growth in other plants. We need to return our farms to more natural biology, and I’m confident we can do so and increase our profitability.

Calcium is essential for mineral movement in soils, making them available to plants, and for the same reason in cows’ digestive systems. The application of lime to farms has deteriorated dramatically over my lifetime. I suspect this too has reduced our soil’s capacity to support vibrant plant growth, apart from soil pH.

The last twelve months has shocked us all, both farmers and the service industry. Innovation and prosperity almost always rises from the rubble of adversity; and rarely from affluence.

John Lyne is a dairy production specialist with Dairytech Nutrition


Does Nutrition Influence Profit?


There are three aspects associated with dairy farming that can elevate or decimate farm profits, and individual cows especially. Feed, Fertility and Lameness. All three are highly related, outside environmental causes to lameness. So, the answer is YES!

FEED: As obvious as it may seem, feed and fertility are well research-proven limitations to farm profit. Based on the Australian 305 day lactation average milk production, clearly we are underfeeding our cows by at least 4+ kgs DM daily. We have bred cows through genetic advancement that have far greater capacity for converting feed dollars to milk dollars, yet we have not taken advantage of our investment in genetics when our national average milk production is half that of the USA.

I’ve been told for 40 years we are a different industry from the USA. Problem is; we are competing on the same world markets against more efficient milk production systems. Further, cows are cows and feed is feed, irrespective of delivery system; grazed or TMR. Producing more milk from the same fixed costs (land and cow maintenance energy cost), increases our competitiveness, but more so, our profit.

Having the feed to optimise our cows’ capacity for converting it to milk dollars is a multifaceted issue we’ll look more closely at next month under the heading of Feed Budgeting. Suffice to say, as all my consultancy clients know, number one is allowing cows access to feed per se. From there we look to planning the growing of forages that are highly digestible. We can fill a cow to contentment with hay, but she will not convert that hay to much milk. Worse still, the conversion of hay dollars to milk dollars is not profitable due mostly to very slow digestibility rates that limit daily dry matter intakes.

From here we look at energy and protein densities. How much energy and protein is in each kg of dry matter consumed by our cow. She has a physical limit to DM feed intake, so the higher the energy and protein in each kg DM of feed, the higher the total energy/protein intake will be, and obviously, how much milk she will produce daily.

We run a ratio in our diet analysis program of energy to maintenance and production. This ratio is critical in determining feed cost per litre of milk produced. Further, as this ratio shifts according to feed intake, digestibility and energy density, the cost of producing a litre of milk rises or falls rapidly. There is a multiplier effect occurring in the shifts of this ratio; for better or worse.

Feed intake, digestibility and energy/protein density are the ‘macros’ of dairy nutrition and production. However, the next plane is mineral nutrition. Our forages are a ‘mixed bag’ of minerals, some excessive and some deficient. For example, our forages tend to be between excessive, and highly excessive in potassium – fertilizer dependant. Our cows have a massive requirement for calcium, and pastures are very low in calcium; likewise, magnesium. It is essential we supplement our cows to regulate excesses and supply deficiencies. Cows also have a high salt requirement.

Next we need to consider trace minerals. Although they are supplemented in very small amounts, they are highly essential to many biological functions of dairy cows, including our opening claim of feed, fertility and lameness. Trace minerals are not very bioavailable from plant tissue, and hence must be supplemented via mineral premixes in grain.

Following are the critical roles of commonly supplemented trace minerals and vitamins. Copper, Manganese and Zinc play important roles in protein synthesis, vitamin metabolism, the growth of ligaments and immune function. Cobalt is essential to B12 vitamin production in the rumen, and if not limited, will supply all the cows’ need for B12. Vitamins A & D are commonly supplemented despite their natural availability from green forages and sunlight respectively, to ensure no compromised requirement.

There are two other essential supplements that I have left until we look at fertility, as they are critical to that major profit driver. They are; the trace mineral selenium and vitamin E. Both have vital roles in uterine health the therefore fertility. Further, both are antioxidants which have important roles in stabilising fatty acids and soluble vitamins. Their role in reducing toxicity of fats is very significant in our grazing based system as pasture has very high fat. The obvious sign of excessive dietary fats from pasture is suppressed BF%. Antioxidants also prevent the formation of free radicals affecting digestion of feeds and animal health.

Fertility then becomes a natural and serendipitous outcome of a fresh cow that has not suffered excessive negative energy balance from underfeeding, or pre-calving nutrition, has her mineral and vitamin requirements met, and then, a healthy and vital uterus. The one issue that can decimate all the above, is lameness.

Lameness prevention has specific nutritional needs, all of which are mentioned above related to milk production and fertility. However, to highlight a few very necessary preventative measures, we ensure adequate zinc is fed for formation of sound hoof material. Limit weight loss post-calving which can reduce the fat pad and its ‘shock-absorber’ function in the heel, and of course, feed buffering agents and adequate effective fibre for good rumen health and mitigation of sub-optimal ruminal pH (SARA).

Supplementing Biotin in mineral mixes added to grain has significant benefits to hoof integrity.

Addressing environmental causes to lameness such as track maintenance, minimising sharp turns on concrete (exiting rotary platforms especially) or covering with rubber mats will reduce injury and ware to hooves. Applying zinc sulphate and copper sulphate solutions alternately via absorbent mats while exiting dairies are beneficial in drying and hardening soles during wet conditions, reducing risk of stone punctures and bruising.

Despite our best efforts in all the above, I cannot stress enough that failed transition nutrition, which I’ve written on numerous times over the past few months, will severely reduce our ability to enhance our cows’ capacity for profitable lactations through feed, fertility and the absence of lameness. A recent report highlighted the fresh cow’s energy need as being similar to a human running two marathons daily. Nothing impacts post-calving energy (feed intake) like transition nutrition.

Nutrition provides a massive ‘window of opportunity’ from dry-off to pregnancy for highly profitable dairy business.

More On Transition


Transition appears to be a subject we preach to ad nauseam. However, in the wise words of Dr Tom Overton (Cornell University), we need to shift our view of transition from a time of disease threat to one of production/reproduction opportunity.

The assumption that all is well, based on no, or little clinical milk fever or ketosis, is far from the truth. Any clinical disease at calving is a flag that we have significant sub-clinical issues, and research has verified the financial magnitude of sub-clinical metabolic disease as far more costly. When metabolism is dysfunctional around calving it may not manifest into clinical disease, but sub-clinical disease will reduce production and fertility. Improvements in milk production and fertility are economically significant.

There are large datasets from commercial herds highlighting both the prevalence of sub-clinical disease and its impact on milk and reproductive performance. Research focus on blood calcium status post-calving show cows with sub-optimal blood calcium one week after calving had twice the displaced abomasum rate, produced 2 to 5 litres less milk and 30% decreased conception rates at first service.

Research by Ospina et al, 2010 studied high NETA and BHBA (ketosis indicators) levels in transition cows found that 15% of herds with elevated levels was alarm level and could reduce heifer production by 500 lts and mature cows by 300 lts. Over 71 herds involved in this research, 50% were in excess of 15% affected cows.

Sub-clinical milk fever and ketosis, they usually go together, along with most other transition problems, can be prevented. Anionic lead feeds are a simple answer to sub-clinical milk fever, and managing energy from dry-off to calving will minimise sub-clinical ketosis. Most other transition problems are secondary disease as a result of these two. Both these diseases carry long-term financial consequences.

We all look for the Silver Bullet that will lift our farms profitability. Reality is, transition can well be that silver bullet, but it requires attention to less obvious details. Simple things like a change in forage of the springer cow ration can throw the ration DCAD out significantly, and suddenly we have cows down at worst, but also unknown sub-clinical disease from an equally unknown change in forage potassium level.

Profits won or lost around transition are major due to lactation-long impacts. No other activity on a dairy farm will yield a higher return on time invested. Checking urine pH of springer cows at least weekly and adjusting the anionic lead feed grain fed to restore the correct pH will virtually eliminate sub-clinical milk fever. Checking fresh cow’s milk with a milk keto test strip at day three post-calving and drenching anything in excess of a reading of 100 with propylene glycol will likewise virtually eliminate sub-clinical ketosis. Without these two most common calving related diseases, you will not just lift the bar on potential milk production, but also have given fertility a boost.

The two drivers of farm profit are feed, because it translates to litres and milk dollars, and fertility, because fresh cows convert feed dollars to milk dollars far more efficiently. Carry-over cows and underfeeding are the two greatest legacies of the Australian dairy industry.


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NEB, Immunity and the Domino Effect
There is a direct correlation between Negative Energy Balance (NEB) and Immunity, and individual imbalances, around calving. Imbalance in both energy and immune system are inevitable at calving; the degree of severity will determine the domino effect this has; being the cascade of metabolic and infectious diseases that can be precipitated from these two crucial functions of our calving cow.
As stated in earlier articles, my definition of transition extends from dry-off to pregnancy. From dry-off, the nutritional issues will determine our success in timely pregnancy. Dry-off BCS has been reducing over the last ten years as research correlates higher BCS with poor post-calving feed intakes, especially rate of increase. Hormonally driven milk increase, not being met by feed (energy) intake, and the gap widens in overconditioned dry cows in the first few weeks.
Negative energy balance and immune imbalance are intimately related, and our goal as manages is to minimise the severity and duration of both. Failure to meet energy post-calving leads to sub-optimal immunity and the dominos start falling. Immune function is an energy-hungry machine. If cows are quietly fighting sub-infection while dry, then energy becomes a scarce resource immediately at calving due a massive increase demanded by the mamary system, we’ll have a ‘health’ implosion. This scenario will only amplify the NEB crisis by reducing feed intake at the most critical time. It is well documented, sick cows, either clinical or sub-clinical, lose appetite.
To understand the magnitude of the increase in energy demand at the point of calving, researches have quantified this shift from 680 gm of glucose precalving to 1.8 kgs immediately post-calving. It almost trebles! The liver works overtime converting substrate from rumination to glucose, plus some help from body fat and protein. This is the tripping point: how much from rumination (feed intake), and how much comes from body reserves. As above, the lighter cow at calving will increase feed intake more rapidly than the heavier cow and hence reduce her reliance on conversion of body fat and protein to meet the mamary system’s demand as milk production escalates.
The immune system is already under pressure simply from the physical stress of calving. Any other physical stress factors will only multiply the demand on the immune system. Management can play a significant role here in preparitory minimisation of external stressors to our calving cow. Once energy supply becomes an issue, immunity will not cope with normal bacterial exposure at calving, let alone any preconditions, like mastitis. Retained membrane followed by metritis send the immune system into overload and inability to meet infection outbreaks. Again, all this only multiplies the energy issue by reducing feed intake. Here go the dominos!
We have two lines of health issues from here: infection due to compromised immune function, and metabolic disease due to excessive fat mobilisation, trying to meet the glucose deficiency, creating fatty liver syndrome and soon after, ketosis. Managing energy is the key.

There is a crisis where normal negative energy balance passes the point of no return. The mediators sent out by the immune system to fight infection also cause inflamation. Inflamation is good to a point. Inflamation is crucial in controlling intial bacterial invasion recruiting immune cells to the site of infection. However, imbalance in the immune system will cause excessive inflamation and incomplete killing of bacteria, pain and swelling for the cow, either external or internal.
Inflamation is also very counter to conception. The inflamation in the uterus from a clinical mastitis case will devistate conception or holding of early pregnancies due to physical and chemical changes in uterine mucus. Immune mediators travel via the blood system, so inflamation is systemic.
How do we manage it?
Dry-off in lower BCS than has been customary. Keeping cows milking well up to dry off will enable this. Cows dried off in summer/early autumn can be a problem due to low protein diet at that time of year. It is imperative the dry cow has no weight gain or loss while dry. Either will precipate the reduced feed intake post-claving. Controlling the dry cow diet is easy during late summer early autumn when pasture intake is not a problem. Good quality adlib silage will do the job nicely.
As discussed in a previous article, 30% to 40% clover must be our pasture goal to meet cows calcium need on top of supplementation in bale feed. Silage made from this pasture mix will also meet the dry cow’s calcium need with significant benefits to immunity, milk protein production and fertility. Controlling energy intake in dry cows once pasture is available requires more monitoring. Adlib hay rings and strip grazing calculating pasture energy intake by monitoring hay consumption and adjusting strip width, is as close as we can get in a grazing system.
The springer cow diet is, as above, plus 3 or 4 kgs of a good lead feed grain mix including anionic salts. Again, it is imperative we monitor/calculate energy intake. DCAD (Dietary Cation/Anion Difference) is critical to springer cows. This is easily done by checking urine pH several times each week. A pH of 5.5 to 6.5 with Jerseys at the lower end and holsteins toward the other end. Drenching cows at calving with propylene glycol is very successful in mitigating ketosis. We have several clients with computer rotary dairys who administer small doses of propylene glycol to fresh cows for 20 days via the computer.
Ketosis status is easily measured with a Milk Keto Test Strip. We encourage all cows be checked at day three for ketosis. Any cow with a reading above 100, treat with propylene glycol: 200 to 400 ml dependant on the severity of the reading. Recheck three days later and retreat as above.
If we’ve been successful with both dry cow and springer cow nutrition, including mineral supplementation, both trace and macro, we’ll avoid most of the problems, metabolic and infection. Our cow is now capable of reaching her genetic potential for milk production, and, contrary to popular belief, most likely to become pregnant in a timely manner. The highest producing cows in the USA (15,000 lts in 305 days), have the highest MP%’s, and the highest fertility.

Dry Matter Intake

In the words of Professor Mike Hutjens, University of Illinios, “Don’t give up on dry matter intake”. He says further, “High dry matter intake solves a lot of problems on a lot of farms”. I could not agree more!

Nothing reduces immediate profit, converting feed dollars to milk dollars, than underfeeding. Most common feeds in our dairy industry are capable to being converted from 1 kg DM of feed to 2 litres of milk after maintenance is met. The math is fairly simple. Even feed at 30c/kg DM (barley) will convert to at least 60c of milk income. Obviously energy density of that feed does influence conversion efficiency. Nevertheless, the lesson stands; if you want to increase profit dramatically, then offer more feed to your cows.

From 16 years of production consulting and 25 years of dairy farming, I can assure you the average Australian dairy cow is 4 kgs DM underfeed. That’s 8+ litres! By our conversion factor of 1 kg DM feed to 2 litres of milk this would produce $1/cow/day more profit. Our cows have incredible capacity to make profit from converting feed to milk.

So why didn’t our cow eat the extra feed?

1) Without doubt, she did not have access to the extra feed. This is by far the greatest limitation to profit in Australian dairy businesses. While the lactation average for the last twelve months in the USA was 10,450 litres and ours is 5200 litres, yet we hope to compete with the USA on world markets, I can assure you the simple difference is feed intake; bar none. The preparation of Feed Budgets for our clients is solely aimed at optimising milk production which has direct relationship to profit, and worse (or better), by a multiplier coefficient.

2) Her rumen is full. Isn’t this what we’re aiming for? Yes, if the feed is balanced for energy, protein and fibre. No if the fibre level is too high and it spends long periods of time in the rumen being digested. Indigestible fibre especially slows down the rate of passage of feed through the digestive tract reducing total feed intake; and milk production. The monthly ration analysis we do for all clients has the goal of a balanced and productive ration to optimise milk production under feed scenarios throughout the season. This is also tempered by what we grow to meet the Feed Budget.

3) The cow stops eating for no apparent reason. This usually occurs from metabolic signalling within the cow’s system. Too much rapidly fermented carbohydrate reducing rumen pH, either clinically or sub-clinical (SARA). Grain is not the only culprit here. It can be rapidly growing pasture with low fibre, frequently cows go from the dairy (grain) straight onto turnips which are highly digestible. Silage feed in between these two will solve a lot of digestive limitations to feed intake. Our pastures have risen in unsaturated fats in recent years through plant breeding. The rumen must convert these unsaturated fats to saturated fats before being transported to the mammary system. An excess of fat will reduce intake, reduce digestion of fibre and in high excess, will crash BF%. Mineral supplementation is essential for health, fertility, but also appetite and feed intake. Good transition nutrition will drive higher peak milk and appetite.

If you want to improve the viability of your dairy business, call Tina in our office (0400 991 814) and she will arrange a ‘no obligation’ visit by one of our team for to explain our nutrition/production services to you. As Mike Hutjens says, “Never give up on MILK!” and never forget your farm is a business.