Spring into Calving
LIFELINE PRE-CALVER Q&A
As another Spring calving approaches, focus will be turning to pre-calving nutrition and its importance in ensuring a successful and profitable 2020 calving season.
Why is the dry period so important?
The dry period, normally lasting around 60 days pre-calving, is the most important phase of a cow’s production cycle. During this phase, the cow and her udder are prepared for the next lactation along with colostrum production. In addition, good management during this period is critical to help prevent key metabolic diseases such as ketosis and milk fever, and support the calving process. Pre-calving nutrition should focus on ensuring dry cows be at the correct Body Condition Score (BCS) at calving.
Why is the correct BCS so important?
Body Condition Score is a technique used for assessing the energy reserves of livestock throughout the production cycle. It provides a guide to the nutritional status of the animal and can therefore be used to help ration cows to ensure the correct condition for each stage of their production cycle.
Body Condition Score at calving is closely related to how quickly cows start cycling after calving. Furthermore, it also has a significant impact on the calving process, cow health and performance post-calving, including colostrum and milk quality and quantity, as well as calf health following birth. The ideal BCS at calving for Spring calving cows is 2.5
In general, the energy and protein requirements of a dry suckler cow can be met by forage alone. However, feeding dry cows only good quality ad-lib silage can result in them becoming over-fat during the dry period, the addition of poorer quality forages or straw into the diet can therefore help fill the rumen without gaining condition.
It’s important to not forget vital mineral, vitamin and trace element supplementation during this key period. In particular magnesium, selenium, vitamin E and iodine are required to promote cow and calf health and vigour.
Which minerals should I supplement pre-calving?
There are 15 minerals essential for life, but only a handful are required to be supplemented in the run up to calving. The most important of these is probably magnesium, as it plays a key role in uterine tone and muscle contractions therefore influencing the ease and speed of the calving process. Adequate copper reserves in the liver are also key for future cow performance due to the link with fertility and oestrus activity. A sufficient supply of minerals is also needed for the developing calf with most growth occurring in the final 6 weeks of pregnancy. The unborn foetus relies entirely on the cow for mineral supply, so if reserves are poor then calf growth and immunity will be compromised. In particular selenium, iodine and vitamin E are all important for calf health and vigour.
What about colostrum?
One of the most important influences we can have on long- term calf health and survival is ensuring they receive the recommended amount of good quality colostrum in the first 24 hours (ideally 12 hours) following birth, as this is when there is maximal absorption of immunoglobins, (see figure 1.) Cattle do not transfer antibodies across the placenta meaning that the calf relies entirely on passive immunity via antibody absorption from colostrum after birth.
Quantity, quality and quickly are key in regards to colostrum provision for the calf to build their immunity and defence to disease challenges.
Colostrum production begins approximately 5 to 6 weeks before calving and peaks at around 2 weeks pre-calving therefore appropriate nutrition during this period will have a major influence. As well as ensuring cows are in the correct body condition, adequate levels of minerals can also help improve the antibody content of colostrum compared to mineral-deficient animals. Other nutritional supplements such as mannan-oligosaccharides (MOS) and beta glucans from yeast can help support the cow’s immune function to maximise nutrition partitioning into colostrum production leading to improved quality for the calf.
What is LIFELINE Pre-Calver and how can it benefit my herd?
Rumenco’s LIFELINE Pre-Calver range is specifically formulated for in-calf cows and heifers to help support a successful calving process. Available as a bucket, mineral crumb or high specification dairy mineral, the supplements provide an optimal supply of key minerals, trace elements and vitamins, including magnesium, selenium, copper and vitamin E, plus other nutritional additives, such as MOS to help support calving ease, cow and calf immunity, calf vigour and colostrum quality, with trial work showing a proven 9.5% increase in IgG levels.
A number of factors will influence this year’s spring calving success, with nutrition playing a key role in benefitting not just the cow, but the calf too. Given the importance of improving calf output, particularly from a financial perspective, ensuring cows and heifers receive a balanced diet in the run up to calving will not only influence the herd’s success this year, but also in the many years that lie ahead. Nutritional management, however, should not stop at calving.
What about post-calving?
Suckler cows have around 80 days to recover from calving and conceive their next pregnancy if they are to maintain a 365-day calving interval. During this period milk production is the cow’s highest priority with energy requirements almost double compared to the dry period. Improvement in body condition, uterine repair and ovulation will only take place if nutrient supply is in excess of that required for maintenance and milk production.
Maxx Cattle Booster will help support fertility in cattle post-calving this spring. High energy plus minerals and vitamins, specifically copper, will support optimal Body Condition Score and fertility to help cows maintain a 365-day calving period. High sugar and balanced protein content, including urea protein complements grazing and silages to support feed digestion and overall performance. Focusing on nutrition pre-calving and immediately post calving is essential to ensure a 365-day calving period and profitability on farm this spring.