Flighty cows are likely to respond to stress, e.g. change of environment, by producing less milk. This and other intriguing points have been noted during a study of dairy cow temperament at AgResearch.
“Late lactation is the best opportunity to review body condition and adjust nutritional management to have cows calving in the ideal condition, which sets them up for the coming lactation and joining period,” Zimmermann explains.
InCalf recommends assessing herd body condition about eight weeks before drying off.
“Aim to have dry-off cows in ideal condition for calving.
“If they are below ideal condition, consider improving their diet between now and drying off by allocating more high-quality pasture or supplement.
“The ideal body condition score at calving is 4.5-5.5, based on the Condition Magician scale of 1-8.
“If most of the herd is in ideal condition, a lower cost option may be to separate the thin cows out for preferential feeding with a supplement.”
Zimmermann says farmers should also be planning their herd’s nutrition during the dry period.
“Don’t fall for the mistake of under-feeding dry cows. You don’t want them to lose weight at this time,” he says.
“Cows require extra energy and protein in the final two to four weeks of pregnancy to meet the higher demands of the developing calf.
“A 550kg dry cow needs about 90-100 megajoules of metabilisable energy a day and 11-12% crude protein – so poor quality pasture and hay will not be enough.”
Zimmermann says farmers could consider gradually introducing a grain supplement in the two weeks leading up to calving. This will help meet the extra requirements of the developing calf and also help prepare the rumen for concentrate feeding after calving, reducing the risk of grain poisoning.
InCalf is Dairy Australia’s national project to help improve herd fertility.