Milking Cows

Milking Cows

Maize Silage: the long and short of it

As a low-cost source of starch and fibre, maize silage is a popular feed option and a great companion to pasture for much of the year. Provided you make allowances for its nutritional limitations, it can be used as a profitable supplement for any dairy system.

Maize silage stacks are an increasingly common sight on dairy farms up and down the country. It’s not surprising as farmers appreciate the costeffectiveness and relative ease of producing bulk feed on-farm: harvesting the whole crop, chopping, compacting and ensiling it in stacks.

However, not all maize silage is created equal!

Science Extension Officer, Natalie Hughes points out that various factors influence its quality and nutritional value. Take the chop length, for instance. Longer lengths can create air pockets when insufficiently compacted, thus affecting the quality of the silage and producing harmful mycotoxins. Then consider the kernels themselves, which are a lead indicator for the starch content. Starch level is determined by kernel quality and quantity – not only cobs/kernels per plant but also a result of what is lost during harvesting. Kernels that are cracked open make it easier for rumen microbes to access the entire kernel, especially its nutritionally loaded centre. Lastly, the silage quality is influenced by the dry matter (or conversely water content) within the stack as this drives aerobic activity; a higher water content means it takes longer for the silage to reach the target pH.

“Storage management also plays a huge role,” Natalie says. “You’re aiming for a silage pit that’s well drained and covered securely with strong plastic.” Effluent run-off and a poor stack face due to improper removal of silage during feed out will keep the bottom layer of the stack wet and promote mould growth.

It’s obvious that all of these factors can significantly impact the nutritional value of silage. But how can you be certain? Natalie cautions against the eye-ometer and highly recommends laboratory testing. “It specifies the dry matter content, the nutritional composition and the quality of fermentation within the stack.” This information is vital whether you’re selling the silage or using it on your own farm.

Generally speaking, maize is nutritionally deficient in terms of calcium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus. “Pasture simply can’t compensate for the lacking trace minerals,” states Natalie. “The only way to achieve a balanced feed and optimise milksolids production is by adding supplements that provide the minerals deficient in maize silage.”

Armed with knowledge about the composition of your silage, you can make an informed decision about which supplement is best. The SealesWinslow range is comprehensive and includes Maizemax Plus, Maize Silage Balancer (which also addresses the often low level of phosphate) and Maize Silage Balancer + Rumensin® to promote healthy rumen microbes. These concentrated blends of micronutrients are very easy to use and eliminate the problems associated with measuring and mixing your own blend. Ultimately you’ll have peace of mind that your cows are getting the nutrients they require.

There’s nothing to stop you from making maize an all-round profitable experience.

Milking Cows

Making the most of Fodder Beet

Since its commercial introduction to New Zealand the popularity of the humble fodder beet has continued unabated. After all, its tremendous yield and high energy content makes it a most attractive choice of winter feed … provided you make allowances for the bulb’s nutritional constraints.

With yields of up to 30 tonnes of dry matter per hectare, fodder beet has gained a reputation for being a cost-effective crop, one that offers benefits to the farmer and the animals alike.

However, there’s a proviso that needs to be kept in mind, namely the nutritional shortfalls of the crop. “Fodder beet has some inherent dietary constraints including low fibre content and low protein levels,” explains SealesWinslow Nutrition and Quality Manager, Wendy Morgan. “Mind you, these are relatively easily addressed with some supplementary silage and straw.”

There’s also the issue of cows ingesting soil while grazing on fodder beet. The problem arises because of the high iron content in our soils which interferes with the absorption of copper and other essential trace elements.

But it’s the bulb’s very low phosphorus content that is the greatest cause for concern when you consider the mineral’s implications for skeletal health, rumen function and milk production.

Farmers traditionally address this deficiency by dusting with dicalcium phosphate; but it’s an unpleasant, regular and time-consuming task that offers moderate success at best and is also quite wasteful, as much of the phosphate ends up on the ground.

So what’s the alternative? Wendy says that the easiest and most effective solution by far is to use SealesWinslow Fodder Beet Block. The molasses based block is formulated with phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium, cobalt, copper, iodine, selenium and zinc; it provides the precise mineral needs for dairy cows and beef cattle that feed on fodder beet. The convenience of simply placing one tub per 25 animals along the fence line is as compelling as its cost-effectiveness. That’s why the Fodder Beet Block is fast becoming the supplement of choice on farms where cows overwinter on fodder beet.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT PHOSPHORUS

  • Major component of the skeleton
  • Vital for rumen function
  • Needed for bone strength, energy metabolism and milk production
  • Symptoms of low-grade phosphorus deficiency include reduced appetite and rapid weight loss
  • Deficiencies are not immediately obvious as cows mobilise their existing phosphorus reserves first; effects typically show up at calving time or during early lactation.

Milking Cows

When More is More

The profitability of a dairy farm largely hinges on the herd’s lactation period. It’s an obvious area for improvement, yet often remains overlooked. Paul Sharp makes a compelling case for optimising the days in milk.

FACT: A modern dairy cow is readily capable of achieving a lactation period of 305 days.

FACT: According to NZ Dairy statistics, our average lactation period comes in at 273 days.

Since our national average falls well short of the benchmark, this might be a good time to discuss relevant issues and options. Is it worth trying to boost the days in milk by nearly 12%, or is it just a waste of effort?

Ask Animal Nutrition Specialist, Paul Sharp, and he’ll tell you that fundamentally it’s a straightforward equation. The underlying principle is that “a milking cow pays her way while a dry cow still incurs feed costs.” So, the 8 – 10 kg DM/day that you’re feeding a dry cow essentially represents a grazing expenditure that isn’t offset by a corresponding income.

However, an additional 4 – 5 kg DM/day will keep the same cow in milk for another 32 days* producing some 1.2 kg MS/day. Importantly, the income more than covers the cost of feed at current payouts.

Paul also cites practicalities that support more days in milk. “Dry cows don’t always receive the same level of attention and can easily lose further body condition which has an impact on the following lactation,” he explains. It simply makes economic sense to extend milking, maintain cow condition scores, and then dry the cows off in a condition desirable for calving. “Putting on weight during the last two months of pregnancy is really challenging, because the cow’s rumen capacity is severely reduced,” says Paul.

There’s also the little known fact that lactating cows are, in fact, physiologically advantaged and more efficient at utilising nutrients from feed compared to their dry herd mates.

Paul acknowledges that the cost-effectiveness of a late-lactating cow comes down to a well-designed diet. Providing feed with the right nutrients is crucial during that time. “Continuing to milk into late lactation with insufficient energy content in the diet is a recipe for cows losing weight. It leads to problems for the following season,” he says. “What they need is energy-dense feed that takes up less space in the rumen. It helps maintain lactation while also improving condition score through to drying off.”

Farm economics obviously demand a cost-effective solution, which is where SealesWinslow’s Home Run comes in. It provides optimal nutrition with processed starch in pellet form, is designed with efficiency in mind and makes more energy available for milk production.

Of course, in the final analysis, pasture remains the cheapest feed; optimising pasture intakes is the first priority. What’s more, due to increased nutrient concentration during autumn, it will provide excellent protein and energy levels at this time provided growth rates are sufficient to meet feed requirements. However, to maximise milk production it’s wise to undertake herbage testing. This allows you to determine the precise level of nutrients your animals are getting and to formulate a balanced diet.

Food for thought?

Contact your SealesWinslow rep to discuss your specific requirements and find out how we can help you achieve a healthier bottom line with more days in milk.

* Based on national average - New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2014/15

Milking Cows

Beat the heat this Summer

As the mercury rises, so does the potential for heat stress in dairy cows, along with associated production losses and health issues. However, with good management and a focused nutrition programme you’re giving your herd the best chance to put in a sterling summer performance.

It’s no secret that cows don’t like the heat; their bodies are simply better suited to lower temperatures. When subjected to heat and humidity they struggle to regulate their thermal balance and respond in two ways: they disperse heat by panting and drooling, and they reduce the ‘internal’ heat production that results from rumen fermentation. Cows will therefore reduce forage intake and eat primarily during cooler times of the day.

Typical outcomes of this behaviour are a lower rumen pH, poor degradation of fibre and risk of SARA (sub-acute rumen acidosis), ultimately manifesting in reduced milk solids production.

SealesWinslow Nutrition and Quality Manager, Wendy Morgan, suggests tackling the issue in two ways. Firstly with good management by ensuring ready access to fresh, clean water; this is especially important directly after milking. “Be sure to check water troughs for level and flow rate,” she recommends. “And keep bacteria and algal blooms at bay with regular cleaning. Over time, plant material, soil and other matter builds up and can lead to toxic compounds as it decays.”

Also, don’t forget about shade! If at all possible, leave paddocks with more natural shade to be grazed during the hottest periods.

The second line of attack is a feeding strategy with a focus on quality. It pays to avoid high fibre content as it raises the fermentation in the rumen and consequently increases the heat load on the cow. “To maximise pasture intakes, grass needs to have good sugar levels and sodium content,” says Wendy. “A superb all-round option is an energy-dense feed, ideally a pellet containing protein and starch, as it helps to counteract the reduced dry matter intake.”

Then there’s the mineral balance: offering salt encourages water intake and helps restore mineral reserves that are depleted from sweating and drooling. It’s hard to believe, but slobbering 100L/day is not uncommon for a hot cow!

And lastly, Wendy advises rumen modifiers for improving the rumen environment. She recommends an additive like Levucell, as it improves fibre digestion and utilisation of nitrogen. “This helps the animal effectively convert feed into milk solids, while also reducing the risk of SARA.”

Feed conversion efficiency in heat-stressed cows can also be reliably boosted with Rumensin®.

Contact your local sales rep for a more comprehensive overview of how SealesWinslow products can help you reduce the effects of heat stress.

Expert tips - beat the heat this summer 

Milking Cows

Making the Most of Peak Milk

Peak milk yield is often cited as a bellwether for the entire lactation performance. Given its importance for profitability, it’s an obvious target for optimisation, which revolves around feed management and balanced nutrition.

A strong and sustained early lactation is critical for the health and performance of the cow. It’s also a stressful time for the animal that’s recovering from the ordeal of calving, not to mention struggling to meet the increased feed demand. Until the rumen returns to working at maximum capacity, it’s not unusual for cows to draw on their body energy reserves (i.e. body fat), resulting in a negative energy balance and ultimately loss of condition.

Natalie Hughes, SealesWinslow Science Extension Officer, explains that optimisation starts during the transition period, with a focus on dry matter intake. “Managing the intake post calving is absolutely crucial.

“The key is to provide energy-dense feed, such as pellets, which take up less space in the rumen than bulky feeds.”

Natalie emphasises the importance of assessing feed in terms of its overall nutritional balance – metabolisable energy content, fibre and protein. (See “Focus on Nutrition” overleaf.)

Dietary starches are important for promoting milk production, while the right mineral mix also plays a big role. Specific minerals to pay attention to include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, cobalt, zinc, iodine and selenium. They need to be regularly supplemented if they are not present in adequate levels in the feed.

Natalie suggests that best practice feed management should include regular herbage testing. “Because it gives you accurate information about nutrients in your feed,” she says, “it enables you to identify and address any gaps that could limit production.”

Pasture management during the post-peak decline is an equally important aspect for optimisation. Pasture surplus, which is typically encountered during spring, needs careful management. If not managed properly, it can result in a low-quality pasture over the summer months – a time when it’s crucial to have feed on hand to optimise milk production.

Milking Cows

Mastering Nutrients

Pop quiz: Can you name the three main nutritional components of animal feed? If this question has you scratching your head, read on. This could be one of the most important articles you’ll read in a long time.

The premise “you are what you eat” applies universally. Ask any top athlete and you’ll hear that optimal health and excellent performance go hand in hand with nutrition know-how. High-performing modern dairy cows are no different.

They aren’t merely powered by dry matter (DM) per se, but rather its key components, including protein, fibre and energy (Did you answer correctly?). Each is an indispensable and irreplaceable part of a balanced nutrition.

Protein – the building blocks
Protein provides essential nourishment for animal growth, maintenance, reproduction and lactation. Generally expressed as percent crude protein (CP%), it is derived from nitrogenous components of the feed. Some of the nitrogen presents as ‘true protein’, compared to the less efficient ‘non-protein nitrogen’. While microbes can convert the latter into true protein, they require much more energy to do so.

True protein consists of ‘rumen degradable protein’ (i.e. protein that is readily broken down and used by the microbes in the rumen) and ‘undegradable dietary protein’ (UDP) – protein that’s not digested, hence its alternative moniker ‘bypass protein’.

The proportion of UDP depends on many factors, including the amount of DM intake, speed of rumen processing and more. It can vary tremendously, anywhere from 10% to 69% of true dietary protein.

Protein requirement for a dairy cow, as percentage of DM, broadly ranges from 12% (dry cow) to 18% (early lactation).

Fibre - for a healthy rumen
The structural material of a plant - its cell walls – is made of cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin, and represents the fibre content of feed. Also called roughage, it’s sometimes expressed as kg of DM, or more accurately as a percentage of the DM.

Fibre comprises digestible and indigestible parts that are collectively known as neutral detergent fibre (NDF). Its poorly digested and indigestible cousin is the acid detergent fibre (ADF). Low ADF values would indicate a high-quality feed that is very digestible. Depending on diet, a minimum of 27-35% of the total DM ration should be supplied as NDF.

Energy – for performance
Put simply, the energy in the feed helps a cow to function. It comes from carbohydrates (sugar, starch), fats and oils, and to some extent from surplus protein. Once ingested, a part of this energy is diverted to faeces, urine and gases, leaving metabolisable energy (ME) to be utilised for growth, reproduction, milk production, activity, condition and maintenance, once heat losses have been accounted for. Megajoules (MJ) measure the energy content – a high number identifies energy-dense feed.

MJ ME/kg DM values vary hugely depending on the feed quality; from 7 for poor summer pasture (browntop) to 13+ for grain. Thus, to achieve a cow’s energy requirement and produce a certain amount of milk, she would need to consume fewer kilograms of a high ME feed than of a low ME feed.

It’s worth noting that ME values derive from lab measurements and exacting conditions. In practice, they can vary substantially, depending on the digestibility of the feed and the combination of feed provided. With the digestibility of pasture being typically around 55–80%, it means that 20-45% of the ME remains unutilised. Given the variables, it’s therefore just a rough indication of feed quality!

Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and 21 minerals are the proverbial “small things that matter” and are essential for animal health, growth and reproduction.

 

Mastering Nutrients 

Milking Cows

Feed to Beat Ketosis

As one of the most common metabolic disorders seen on modern dairy farms, ketosis is a major source of frustration, not to mention costs, for New Zealand farmers. While it can be treated, it's better to prevent it in the first place. The right feed management has everything to do with it.
The first week post calving is arguably the most important for the modern dairy cow. Her performance during this time is a reliable indicator of her capacity for the remaining lactation. In other words, any production losses post calving will be further magnified later on!

For the cow to transition smoothly from a “dry” state into full lactation she needs a balanced mineral intake and sufficient feed to prevent weight loss and the health issues that come with it - notably ketosis.

It’s critical that she feeds during calving. If feed is inadequate (either from underfeeding or poor-quality feed), or if the cow does not eat because of other metabolic or calving problems, you quickly run into problems. “Her body responds by mobilising its own fat reserves to make up the deficit,” explains Paul Sharp, SealesWinslow Science Extension Officer.

“But if the deficit is too large, her liver can’t process enough fat into readily metabolisable energy, and ketosis will occur,” he cautions.

The least damaging scenario, subclinical ketosis, will adversely impact the milk production later in the season and cause cycling/reproductive problems. At the clinical end of the scale, the problems typically expand into other metabolic disorders and potentially the death of the animal. With ketosis affecting up to 5% of a herd, this can be a very troubling problem indeed. Reason enough to avoid it.

Key points to help combat ketosis:
  • Ensure that the animal has sufficient quality feed during and around calving time.
  • Remember that feed intake in the hours around calving is of utmost importance.
  • Include a high quality pelleted feed though the calving and early lactation period, be mindful to provide high energy concentrations and minerals in the diet.
  • Provide constant and ad-lib feed from calving through to the colostrum herd, especially during adverse weather when pasture utilisation can be compromised.

Milking Cows

Transitioning for Better Animal Health and Productivity

In the three weeks before and after calving, the dairy cow undergoes profound physiological changes. Give her the right nutritional support during that time, and her metabolism will deliver ample rewards well beyond calving, throughout the following lactation.
During transition, the energy of the close up dry cow is diverted from growing her calf to meeting lactation demands. This burden on her metabolism puts her body under immense stress, making her highly susceptible to health issues such as ketosis and milk fever.

While a percentage of animal health problems are a statistical reality – especially around calving time – those problems can nevertheless be averted or at least minimised. And the good news is that you can do so by drawing from your readily available nutritional arsenal.

Boosting immunity

“The overall aim is to boost your cow’s immune system,” says SealesWinslow Nutritionist Wendy Morgan. “This gives her the necessary ammunition to fight any infections she may face.”

A good place to start is with a quality transition pellet. It only needs to be offered in small quantities but it’s helpful to get the animal used to pelletised feed, especially if it’ll form part of the post-calving diet. Wendy recommends pellets that contain starches, bypass protein (which allows better utilisation of essential amino acids and results in improved milk production) and, importantly, organic minerals. “These minerals not only boost the immune system but are also passed on to the calf in the colostrum,” she notes.

Only best practice will do for magnesium

A key mineral requirement is magnesium. It’s not well stored in the animal and needs to be provided daily – ideally in different forms during transition, for instance as magnesium oxide and/or magnesium chloride. It will help to combat milk fever when given on its own before calving, and in combination with calcium thereafter.

While magnesium is widely used, studies show that the typical application (i.e. dusting on pasture or adding to drinking water) is often insufficient unless meticulous “best practice” processes are followed.

It’s also important to keep an eye on dosage because in higher concentrations, magnesium quickly becomes unpalatable to cows. “To prevent this you can easily mask the flavour by mixing it with other feed,” suggests Wendy. “That way you can ensure uptake.”

Of course, you can also opt for dehydrated lick blocks such as SealesWinslow Calver Max, supplied by SealesWinslow, which eliminates hassle and guesswork altogether. This is a very convenient option and its effectiveness has been proven during evaluation trials, where animals provided with dehydrated blocks experienced fewer cases of mastitis and less retained placentas. It’s also formulated to deliver better rumen performance and improved appetite post calving, which is important in preventing ketosis (see previous article).


Milking Cows

Winter Feed Strategies

What to watch out for when planning your winter feed strategies for cattle.

Milking Cows

Feeding Fodder Beet

Fodder beet is increasingly popular as a winter feed for dairy cows.  However, it does have some nutritional constraints, including a low phosphorus content, low fibre level (<20%) and less than optimal protein content (13%).  It does have a high sugar content, which makes it very palatable.

Feeding silage and straw alongside fodder beet to ensure the animal's energy needs are met and helps to offset fibre and protein shortfalls.  However, a phosphorus deficiency may remain.

Fodder beet has a low phosphorus content, low fibre level and less than optimal protein content.  On the other hand it has a high sugar content, making it very palatable.

Cows grazing fodder beet ingest more soil than cows grazing pasture or other non-bulb crops. New Zealand soils contain reasonable levels of iron, so when cows are grazing fodder beet, their iron intake increases. Iron is an antagonist for many trace elements - in other words, it interferes with the normal metabolism of those trace elements.

Copper absorption in particular is decreased in the presence of high dietary iron, most likely as a result of insoluble compounds forming in the rumen.

Role of phosphorus

Phosphorus is a major component of the skeleton. It also plays a key role in a number of metabolic processes, including those that take place in the rumen. It's needed for bone strength, energy metabolism and milk production. It's also involved in buffering the rumen, which helps to minimise the risk of acidosis.

Phosphorus deficiency

Cows that are fed a low-phosphorus diet for an extended period of time may develop sub-clinical phosphorus deficiencies. Symptoms of low-grade phosphorus deficiency include reduced appetite and rapid weight loss; in some cases, blood may be seen in the urine.

The effects of a low-phosphate diet are not immediately obvious, as in the short-term cows will mobilise their existing phosphorus reserves to maintain blood phosphorus levels.

Dietary phosphorus

Lactating cows require a dietary phosphorus intake of between 0.3% and 0.4% (i.e. 3.0 - 4.0 g P/kg DM). Dry cows require a slightly lower level (0.27 - 0.35%).

Phosphorus supplementation has been associated with an increase in fertility. However, the mechanism underpinnning this is uncertain. It may be a result of weight gain, reduced weight loss, or a direct effect of the phosphorus itself.

Heifers that have a phosphorus deficiency may experience delayed oestrus. In addition, cows with a prolonged sub-optimal phosphorus intake may show a reduction in milk yield.

The on-farm experience

Animals are typically wintered on fodder beet for 60 to 100 days. Grazing on a predominantly low-phosphorus diet for this length of time could result in phosphorus deficiency manifesting at calving or early lactation, which would have implications for the health of young stock and for the milk production potential of dairy cows.

While some cows that experience phosphorus deficiency will recover, others will go down. The classic presentation of a cow that has gone down as a result of phosphorus deficiency is a 'creeper cow' - the cow is down but alert. Such cows will try to crawl around, especially on their forelimbs, but will be unable to rise. The fact that these cows are alert and energetic distinguishes them from the sluggish downer cow seen in milk fever.

Milking Cows

Getting more days in milk

New Zealand farms' lactation statistics leave room for improvement. Given their impact on the bottom line it may be a good time to take a closer look at farm practices.

The lactation period of a dairy herd is a key driver for farm profitability. Accordingly, most farming systems aim to have cows in milk for 305 days, with 60 dry days to maintain optimum udder health and get the most out of your high genetic merit cows.

Our farming reality, however, is quite different. Current DairyNZ statistics point to a rather more modest national lactation average of 273 days – 32 days short of best practice. In other words, the average farm could achieve a worthwhile lift in productivity by extending the lactation period.

While the reasons for the statistical productivity shortfall vary from body condition score to pasture covers, the path towards improvement can be readily evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“A dry cow typically consumes eight to ten kg dry matter (DM) every day to maintain her body condition score over the dry period,” says Science Extension Officer Natalie Hughes. “For Friesians on crop this can increase to about 15 kg, which clearly represents a substantial cost of grazing, without a corresponding income from milk.”

So what’s involved in extending the lactation period and generating an income to offset the costs of dry cows?

“All things being equal, it’s about quantity as well as quality of diet,” says Natalie. In terms of quantity, she suggests a rule of thumb being four to five kg of DM per day. “This, in addition to the daily intake of a dry cow, is generally adequate to keep a cow in milk for longer.”

In terms of quality, it hardly needs emphasising that DM isn’t created equal. Even pasture – the easiest and cheapest form of DM – can vary tremendously. While the boost in moisture levels throughout autumn traditionally brings improved pasture covers, it’s unwise to assume it as being self-evident.

“Best farm practice is to get your pasture tested,” is Natalie’s advice. There really is no substitute for proper herbage tests. They are easily carried out and will tell you exactly what nutrients your pasture is delivering to your cows. “This is the basis for formulating a balanced diet, at any time of the year.”

Pasture that is high in fibre, for instance, takes up more space in the rumen – suboptimal for a pregnant cow whose stomach capacity is severely reduced in the final two months of gestation. But when you know this, you can easily respond with energy-dense feed. It takes up much less room, and supplies the cow with the nutrients she needs at a time when the foetus completes the majority of its development.

When buying in feed, it’s important to focus on what nutrients it supplies. Food for thought? 

Milking Cows

Spotlight on nutrition

There are several factors that play a role in achieving a maximum return from your cows. Among the most important is providing the right mix of nutrients in the animals' diet.

The correlation between feed input and (milk or meat) output is well known. Quality at one end invariably produces quality at the other end, too. It’s about maximising the return on investment. All it requires is diligence and some simple nutritional measures – along with a basic understanding of nutritional principles. That’s where SealesWinslow Nutrition and Quality Manager, Wendy Morgan comes in.

She has amassed a wealth of information and gladlyshares it. When asked about the fundamentals, she stresses the primary importance of examining the feed on hand, and then “filling the gaps”.

“Be aware that in practice you’ll always have one nutrient that is what’s called first limiting. It prevents the animal gaining maximum production, fertility and health,” she explains. Say your cow has a good diet that falls short in one mineral, and let’s assume the needs for that mineral are only met by 80%; then regardless of how well all other nutrient needs are met – the cow will only reach 80% of her maximum. If it’s a substantial deficit, the ramifications can be significant. Think of it as a lowest common denominator.

To make matters worse, any effort and moneyspent on providing other/wrong nutrients is wasted.

Obviously, good pasture utilisation and management is key as it maximises the most affordable feed. Augment that with herbage tests (see article overleaf) and you’re on your way.

“Knowing the dietary composition of pastureor any other feed is vital,” stresses Wendy. “How else would you know what nutrients youneed to add, if at all?” She notes that increasingnumbers of farmers see the value in this approach. However, many traditionalists also draw on historical practice. But with its reliance on seasonal weather, this method unfortunately fails to accountfor the erratic weather patterns that now dominate our climate. It requires additional information to make good decisions.

Once you know the limiting factor of your feed, you can make appropriate choices. Diets based on maize silage, for instance, offer good levels of fibre and moderate starch, but are lacking in protein and certain minerals. You therefore need to balance it with good-quality grass silage, pasture or a protein meal (cottonseed or soybean) plus calcium, sodium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Similarly, a diet high in fodder beet lacks protein, magnesium and phosphorus. While grass silage offers a better balance of nutrients, it has a low level of starch. In this manner, the dietary needs of the cow can be met year-round.

Wendy emphasises that a continuous effort is needed to avoid deficiencies that could otherwise occur. “Copper is often supplemented each year but if a cow uses her reserves through the season, while also being fed a diet low in copper, she may still develop issues later in the season.” advises Wendy. The same can occur from a calcium deficiency, leading to milk fever, while a lack in phosphorus can manifest in ‘creeper cows’. But with good nutrition, you can mitigate all those risks while improving the return on your investment.

If you need help with diets and identifying limiting factors, expert advice is only a phone call away.

Milking Cows

Maintaining Productivity in Hot Weather

Hot and humid weather affects the dry matter intake (DMI) of lactating dairy cows. The combined effects of elevated ambient temperatures and humidity can make for an uncomfortable environment, particularly for high producing dairy cows.  High producing dairy cows have greater metabolic heat production – the heat energy that is produced from digestion - than lower producing cows.

Heat stress occurs when the cow’s ability to dissipate excess body heat is compromised because the environmental temperature is high.  Humidity further impacts this by affecting the cow’s ability to cool herself by sweating and panting.

The three signs of heat stress in lactating cows are:

  • lethargic behaviour
  • reduced feed intakes
  • reduced milk production
 

The primary reason for the drop in milk production during hot and humid weather is that the cows eat less.  Minimizing the environmental effects on DMI is critical to maintaining productivity in times of heat stress.  This response is thought to be a survival mechanism as digesting and processing nutrients generates further heat.  Ensuring cows have ready access to fresh, clean water and lots of it is paramount.

Since cows will be consuming less as temperatures rise, increasing the energy density of the diet can in part compensate for the decreased DMI.

To increase the energy density of the diet, consider providing a suitable fat source, e.g. a coated or bypass fat and/or offer feeds that produce less heat from digestion. 

Heat production increases following a meal. This is a result of the heat energy from fermentation and heat of nutrient metabolism.  Different types of feeds produce varying levels of heat from their digestion, largely because of the efficiency of utilisation. Fibre produces more heat in the rumen than other carbohydrate feed sources.  Feeds that have high oil content also require more energy to digest and reduce the nutrient metabolism.  Low fibre feed sources usually result in less heat of digestion than feeds that are higher in fibre.

The quantity of quality protein over the summer months becomes important, particularly as pasture quality drops. Protein in the diet not only supports milk production and milk protein content but protein also plays a hand in stimulating intakes or hunger.  Protein sources that are higher in bypass protein or rumen undegradable dietary protein (RUDP) - which passes through the rumen and digested in the lower intestine, require less energy for digestion and hence produces less heat.

How to beat the heat:

  • keep cows cool by providing shade
  • have a plentiful supply of cool, clean, fresh water
  • increase the energy density of the diet

Milking Cows

Pasture to the Fore

Pasture is king in New Zealand and the cheapest feed available on dairy farms. Skilful pasture management will ensure pasture quality is maintained and maximum value is gained out of this essential on-farm resource.

The shift from spring to summer

The emphasis in late spring and early summer is usually on controlling pasture surpluses so that pasture quality is maintained. The aim is to consistently graze to residuals of around 3.5-4 cm height (1,500–1,600 kg DM/ha); this means ryegrass plants will have 2–3 leaves for pre-grazing cover.1 Grazing to lower levels than this knocks pasture growth as plants do not have adequate leaf area to intercept sunlight efficiently, and sunlight, along with moisture, are key drivers of plant growth. It also prevents plants from producing tillers and laying down stores of carbohydrates in the roots, these are needed for plants to survive the summer ahead. Letting residuals rise above this is not a good idea either, as dead matter will start to build up, tillering will drop and plants will become stemmy, all of which will decrease pasture quality.

If sufficient stock are not available to keep a lid on pasture levels then deferred grazing is an option. This can result in a loss of pasture quality, so conservation is the best policy to maintain good-quality pasture. Conserved pasture, i.e. silage or baleage, is the next best feed to pasture, in terms of economics (recently estimated by DairyNZ at 1.77c/MJ ME eaten), and allows the transfer of highquality feed with good protein levels to later in the season. With a dry summer looming, this feed source may be particularly valuable this year.

Of course, the value of silage will be affected by the quality of the product to start with; timing is of the essence when cutting silage. It also needs to be managed correctly after cutting to ensure its quality is maintained; poor management can result in fermentation losses during storage or high wastage when it is fed out.

The mineral make-up of pasture is also worth monitoring as deficiencies, excesses, and the interactions between minerals can all affect animal health and production. The mineral levels in pasture can vary from season to season, on different soil types, in different regions, and from farm to farm. Herbage samples are generally taken in spring, when pasture is actively growing. Once the test results are back, a suitable supplementation programme can be developed if any imbalances have been revealed.

Later in the season

As the season progresses and ryegrass plants become reproductive the energy content and growth rate of pasture will drop and fibre and dry matter levels will rise. ADF (acid detergent fibre) and NDF (neutral detergent fibre) are measures of the fibre content of pasture. At high fibre levels rumen microbes can struggle to break down the strong lignin, cellulose and hemi-cellulose elements that up the fibre in pasture. This can have a negative impact on an animal’s ability to process pasture nutrients, with a flow-on effect to milk production.

Maintaining good-quality, leafy pasture will help to minimise this effect.

Pasture to the Fore Table 

Table 1. Technical Series, August 2014

The protein levels in pasture will also drop in summer. Protein is measured as crude protein (CP) and in research carried out at Massey University CP was measured at less than 15% in summe pasture. Again, good pasture management helps to keep protein levels up complement this by using the high-quality silage made earlier in the season or a supplement with high protein levels, like protein pellets, cottonseed meal or soya bean meal.

If conditions become dry the goal of keeping residuals above 3.5 cm can be difficult to maintain. Some of the water-soluble carbohydrates in pasture are stored in the first 4-5 cm of plant material above the ground and these reserves can literally be eaten into, resulting in slower pasture recovery after autumn rain. This is another situation where good-quality supplements can be used to help rebuild pasture residuals to target levels.

In any season the ultimate goal is to manage pasture to maintain its quality. Making silage, as part of the strategy, supports this aim, and ensures supplies of a good-quality, low-cost supplement are on hand when pasture supply becomes limited in summer.

References:

1 Lee, J, Hedley, P & Roche, J (2011), Grazing management guidelines for optimal pasture growth and quality, DairyNZ Technical Series, Issue 5, September

Milking Cows

Top Tips for Surviving a Dry Summer

Without the benefit of a crystal ball, it is hard to predict whether summer will see us needing to break out the sunblock or buy a new pair of gumboots. While it’s easy to prepare ourselves for both eventualities, we also need to think of the needs of the cow.

This year, we must consider the likelihood of a dry summer, with NIWA predicting El Niño conditions, it seems a likely possibility.

During periods of high temperatures and low rainfall, changes may be seen on the milk docket and at the same time, the pasture quality will start to drop off. As pasture changes from vegetative to reproductive and the number of seed heads increases, there will be a decrease in digestibility of the feed and the energy available in the pasture. The cow will need to eat more to meet her energy requirements, a difficult task with such bulky, rumen-filling feed. If the cow cannot consume sufficient energy – a common limiting factor in dairy cows – milk production will be reduced and condition will not be regained at the rate needed to dry off at the required body condition score (BCS). If this is the case, an energy-dense supplement should be considered to balance the diet.

What happens in pasture? 

Pasture protein levels are often lower in summer, especially in dry conditions. Although the protein requirements of cows decrease through the lactation cycle, by late lactation the pasture protein content may be lower than the cows need - at this time they require 16% dietary protein. However, protein is an expensive nutrient so it is important to monitor the pasture analysis and only add supplementary protein when needed.

Rather than energy or protein being the limiting factor, it could be that there is a “Vitamin F” deficiency (F standing for feed). Dry matter (DM) is the first consideration when balancing diets for dairy cows. They are a ruminant first and foremost so they must have sufficient fibre to keep the rumen working at optimum levels. Concentrates should be introduced slowly to allow the gut microbes to change in order to breakdown these new feeds; too much of a good thing rings true in these situations. 

Palm kernel (PKE) is a good option to consider in times of a feed shortage. It is considered a “safe” feed due to the low levels of starch not causing acidosis or rumen dysfunction when fed ad lib in the paddock. It can contain low levels of calcium and sodium and so these may need to be supplemented. Whilst PKE has a high NDF level, this fibre is very finely ground. Physically effective (long) fibre should still be fed to the cows. Silage would be the most common forage supplement for cows in times of pasture shortage. It is important to know the nutrient levels of this when feeding to cows; it cannot be assumed to be the same as the grass that was cut for silage as there will have been some deterioration during storage. Maize silage is a good option where available; care must be taken to balance out the mineral levels as it is deficient in calcium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus. Maize silage is also low in protein so should be balanced with a feed containing protein, such as grass silage, soya bean meal or cottonseed meal.

Water can be easily overlooked, but considering milk is almost 90% water, it is clearly invaluable. A cow requires around 120 litres of water per day, more in hot and humid conditions. Troughs should be checked on a regular basis to ensure they are full and clean so the cows are not without water at any time.

Heat stress can also be an issue. Whilst we may consider this as only an issue for milk producers in areas like Queensland and Florida, the combination of heat and humidity means that cows start to be affected at temperatures of 25°C with 50% humidity, or even 24°C with 65% humidity. 

As the cow tries to cool down, her metabolic priority moves away from digesting feed. Feed intake decreases and at the same time, the requirements for maintenance increase, leading to a drop in milk production. Help can be given by altering milkings to allow the cows to walk in cooler times of the day, offering paddocks with shade where possible and considering the use of yeast additives to help improve rumen function.

Stress threshold 

It is possible that the weather forecasters have got it wrong. Instead of sweltering through milking, it might be more a case of sheltering through it. With sufficient preparation, it should be possible to smoothly ride out the changeable weather conditions and have a successful conclusion to the season.

Milking Cows

Maize Silage Deficiencies

Maize silage is a high quality forage but it can be lacking in a number of minerals essential to cattle.

Maize silage has many valuable benefits as a supplement for pasture-fed dairy cows – it is relatively low in crude protein and high in starch, complementing pasture’s typically high protein and low soluble sugar content through spring and autumn. The relatively high yield potential of maize and its long storage life as silage makes it one of the most popular supplementary feeds in New Zealand dairy systems.

Maize silage is useful in early spring when pasture availability limits dry matter intake (DMI); later it helps to boost peak milk production levels by balancing the protein and starch content of the pasture to better meet the cow’s requirements.  Through autumn and winter, feeding maize silage helps to lift cow condition scores and to extend milk production through the late lactation phase.  During this time, a diet of pasture alone is likely to limit what can be achieved in terms of milk production and cow condition.

When you’re feeding maize silage to cows, it’s important to look at the nutritional requirements of your stock, and see how that is being met by the composition of the feed – the silage, the pasture and any other feeds being offered.  The table below shows the typical analysis of maize silage and autumn grass, and the requirements of lactating dairy cows.

  Maize Silage Feed Quality*
Autumn Grass Feed Quality
Dairy Cow Feed Requirements
Dry matter content
33%
12% 30%
Energy content (MJME/kg DM)
10.5 12.7 12.0
Crude protein content
7% 25-30% 18-20%
Soluble sugars and starch
30% 5-15% 35%
Acid detergent fibre (ADF)
29% 18-22% 16% min
Neutral detergent fibre (NDF)
50% 25-40% 25% min
Phosphorous (g/100 g)
0.2 0.3-0.5 0.4 min
Calcium (g/100 g)
0.18 0.4-0.7 0.6 min
Magnesium (g/100 g)
0.12 0.24 0.22 min
Sodium (g/100 g)
0.01 0.1-0.2 0.4

*Data taken from AgFact 251 (AgResearch)

 

Maize silage has relatively low levels of several minerals – most notably calcium, magnesium and sodium.  Low dietary intake of these key minerals can cause stock health issues (mainly in spring), but they can also reduce the productivity of the cows.

If your goal of providing supplementary feed in autumn is to help extend lactation, then you want to make sure that the feed supports productivity.  When it comes to maize, there’s an easy way to achieve this, simply use a mineral additive, which can be added to the maize silage prior to feeding out.  This will boost the levels of calcium, magnesium and sodium so that the cow receives the dose of minerals that she requires for health and productivity.

Milking Cows

Maintaining Peak Lactation

Dairy cows deliver the most for your business when they are at peak lactation, so keeping them at this level for as long as possible makes good economic sense. While some decline is inevitable, most of the fall-off in production we see usually comes from issues related to feed quality and quantity. Understanding what drives this fall in lactation yield is the first step to reversing the productivity slump.

One of the key factors driving a decline in production is the change in pasture quality that occurs as spring turns into summer. In early spring, grass grows prolifically and that growth is all vegetative - in other words, it’s all nice, soft, easily digestible leafy material.

As summer arrives, grasses move into a reproductive phase of growth – they start to produce seed. Seed needs to be up high in order to disperse well, so the plant starts making more fibrous stems. Fibre is strong and gives the plant the structure needed to grow tall and support the developing seed head. At the same time, leafy parts of the plant also become more fibrous, because they need to grow taller if they are to compete with the surrounding plants.

The fibre in grass plants comprises lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. Lignin and cellulose are the two fractions of fibre that are most difficult to digest. They are the compounds that are measured by the acid detergent fibre (ADF) test. Hemicellulose is more digestible, and is measured by the neutral detergent fibre (NDF) test (along with lignin and cellulose).

While the increase in fibre content is good for the plant, it’s not much good for the nutrition of dairy cows. There are two reasons for this. First, as the level of fibre in the plant increases, the level of protein decreases, so the feed quality declines. Second, it alters the animal’s grazing habits, because they simply can’t eat the same volume of feed when it has more fibre in it.

Pasture with a high fibre content is less digestible, so each kilo of dry matter (DM) contains less metabolisable energy (ME) than would be found in leafy, less-fibrous grass. As it is less digestible, it spends longer in the rumen than less fibrous feeds do, which means that cows feel full for longer, so they eat less pasture over the course of a day.

Lower feed intakes and lower feed quality combine to reduce the rate of liveweight gain and cause milk production to drop. That fall-off in production can be significant – in the order of a 9% decline in production each month. Some decline is inevitable: after cows attain peak lactation, they tend to show a 4-6% drop in milk production per month simply due to physiological changes in the animal itself. However, the average milk production decline in New Zealand herds through summer is nearer 15% per month. The difference between the innate, biological decline (4-5%) and the actual decline experienced is virtually all due to feed quality and quantity.

Fortunately, there are some techniques that can be used to overcome this situation. They include:

  • Using faster rotational grazing speeds. This means the pasture is younger when it’s grazed, so less likely to be setting seed
  • Making regular applications of nitrogen fertiliser to the pasture. This promotes leaf growth, provided that the growing conditions are suitable, e.g. as long as there is sufficient soil moisture to support vegetative growth
  • Harvesting long pasture for silage. This removes the fibrous material from the cows’ diet
  • Using high-energy supplements. This helps to maintain both the energy and nutrient intakes of stock
  • Using protein-rich supplements. This helps to counter the lower protein levels found in fibrous pasture.

Milking Cows

Balancing the Winter Diet

Dry cows are often considered to be taking a break at this point in the season.  However, this is not really a holiday but should be seen as a training period for the marathon they are building up to – producing maximum milk yields for their genetic potential.  By paying attention to feed and health at this time, farmers can make sure milk solids production increases rapidly to peak and any metabolic issues are minimised.

Wintering cows often suffer from the out of sight out of mind scenario.  Whether they are off farm or on, they need to be provided with the essential minerals that may have been depleted during milk production. 

Dry cow nutrition can also influence the calf.  By ensuring optimum mineral nutrition is delivered to the cow, this is then passed to the calf in colostrum and can help set the calf off to the best start.  Your calves are the future of the herd and any considerations we can make to improve their management are important. 

Mineralised molasses blocks provide the essential minerals needed whether wintering on pasture or brassica crops as well as supplying molasses to the cows.  This helps complement the pasture offered as part of the daily ration.  By increasing the energy level of the diet, the rumen microbes can work to break down the pasture more efficiently meaning the cows get more from every mouthful.  The molasses delivery system ensures the often unpalatable minerals will have the flavour masked and will be taken up by the cow when she needs them.

Milking Cows

Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring is an accepted method of assessing the levels of a cow’s energy reserves. It becomes a primary focus as farmers move towards drying off; however, it should be monitored throughout the season.

Condition score at calving is a target that many people focus on, with the aim to have mature cows at a condition score of 5.0 and first and second calvers a half a condition score fatter, at 5.5.  The aim is to add condition gradually over the season, with no sudden losses or gains.  By the time you get to drying off you should have cows as close to calving condition as possible, and you should avoid sudden losses at calving - losing more than one condition score can negatively affect ability to peak early or even reach milk production potential.

Condition is somewhat of a balancing act.  If it is too low at calving, i.e. below 5.0, there will be impacts on milk production, reproduction and ultimately cows’ health and welfare. However, if it is too high you can run into health issues such as metabolic problems, so staying as close to 5.0 as possible is the best policy.  Also, make sure you don’t just look at the averages for the herd: individuals that have strayed too far below or above the desired level of 5.0 should be managed separately.

DairyNZ recommends you condition score cows at four key times of the year, but measurements during summer and autumn are the most important.  A December assessment will allow you to plan your autumn management, and one around the end of February will allow you to assess if your plan is working and make decisions on drying off and other management options, such as once a day milking or preferential feeding of lighter cows.  The other two recommended measurement times are before calving - to see if your autumn management plan worked - and at the planned start of mating, to see how much condition has been lost at calving.

The levels of different milk components can be an indicator of condition loss.  If your milk fat percentage is higher than predicted early in the season, it may indicate that a cow is losing more weight than expected, through utilising body reserves, and her diet should be adjusted to supply more energy.

Milking Cows

Nutrition and Reproduction

The name of the mating game is ENERGY!  Attention to detail, including a focus on nutrition, contributes to strong reproductive performance.

Successful mating starts well before the breeding season.  As demonstrated in the diagram [1], the follicles released during the pre-mating heats start developing even before the cow calves.  The follicle we hope to successfully mate starts developing within a week of calving.  The nutrition and management of the cow through these follicle waves will have an impact on the strength of heats and the viability of the egg to be mated

Follicle Development and Energy Balance

 

The concept of negative energy balance is well understood.  The reality is that as the herd approaches peak milk (40 – 60 days from the mid-point of calving), it is physiologically impossible for the cow to consume enough energy to meet her demand for lactation.  If peak milk is occurring beyond 60 days in milk, there is even greater competition for energy allocation and invariably cycling will suffer.  The opportunity lies in the fact that management and nutrition can influence the depth and duration of negative energy balance.

This starts with having cows well set up:
  • healthy calving with minimal metabolic disease challenge and a body condition score of 5.0; losing no more than 1 BCS (within the first 70 days in milk)
  • maintaining or increasing body condition as the herd approaches mating

First and foremost, pasture allocation needs to be well managed.  Pasture budgets should be structured to achieve a target dry matter intake of 4% of live weight (e.g. 18.8 kg DM eaten and at least 23.5 kg DM offered for a 470 kg cow).  To achieve this level of intake on pasture, managing quality is essential.

For lighter cows, or at-risk cows (e.g. lame, mastitis, cows who have endured metabolic challenges at calving) special care is needed to ensure body condition gain as mating approaches.  Options include:

  • Strategic use of once-a-day milking reduces the daily walking distances and limits production levels allowing greater energy from the diet to be diverted to condition gain and cycling activity
  • Preferential feeding can be achieved by:
    • Improved grass allocation
    • Offering energy-dense silages (to identify which line of baleage, or silage pit is of the best quality get the feed tested)
    • Supply of an energy-dense concentrate in the shed.

    [1] Adapted from Britt, J. The Bovine Proceedings No 24. January 1992


Milking Cows

Counting the Cost of Somatic Cells

High somatic cell counts (SCC) are an obvious concern for farmers, but even if your SCC is below the penalty point threshold, you could still be losing income through reduced milk production, not to mention the time and expense involved in treating clinically apparent mastitis.

The somatic (body) cells that are detected in milk are mainly white blood cells, which appear in response to infection.  A low SCC is an indicator of good udder health; a high SCC is an indicator of mastitis. As SCC rises, milk yield falls: a cow can have no visual signs of mastitis, yet still have a raised SCC, which means she would be producing below her potential.

DairyNZ has developed some good tools that you can use to determine the economic cost of udder health problems (www.smartsamm.co.nz).

The graph below shows the value of the milk potential that is being lost by farms that are not meeting a benchmark for SCC of 100,000 this SCC target: for an average farm the potential loss is around $27,000 a year; for a large farm with high SCCs the loss can exceed $100,000.

Somatic Cells

Lowering the SCC offers the chance to recover some of this potential loss.  If the average farm mentioned above spent $13,500 on reducing their SCC to the 100,000 benchmark, they could see a 2:1 return on their investment.

The challenge is to identify the best strategies for reducing your herd’s SCC.  Many factors influence how high the SCC is, so knowing where to start can be difficult.  One of the easiest steps to take involves your herd’s nutrition.  Sub-optimal nutrition can undermine the performance of the immune system, reducing udder health.  One mineral in particular plays an important role in combatting mastitis: zinc.

Zinc is needed for the formation of the keratin plug that sits in the teat orifice. This plug forms a barrier that stops pathogens entering the udder. The material in the plug is turned over quite quickly – around 40% of it is replaced each day – so it’s important to have a steady supply of dietary zinc so new keratin can be formed.

Small amounts of zinc are taken up by cows grazing pasture, but if this dietary intake isn’t meeting needs, then zinc methionine can be custom blended into stockfeed.  When used with other animal health practices, zinc can be very effective at helping to reduce SCC levels.

Milking Cows

Successful Mating

Successful mating starts well before the breeding season; two of the keys to success are getting stock to a healthy condition score and ensuring that they have good mineral status.

In the lead-up to mating, cows are under a considerable amount of metabolic stress. Since they are near peak lactation at this time, the cows are consuming energy and resources just by producing milk. At the same time, they have to fuel basic processes such as walking and eating. If the cow faces inadequate feed – either quantity or quality – to meet her needs, then some form of metabolic activity has to be shut down or reduced to compensate, and generally, the first activity to be affected is cycling.

Non-cycling cows are clearly a drain on farm resources, and the goal should be to minimise these as much as possible.

While cycling activity in all cows will be affected by their nutrition, there are some specific conditions that can also have an effect. For instance, retained foetal membranes (RFMs) or metabolic disorders related to calving make cycling much less likely and need to be addressed early in the season. The underlying reasons for the calving problems need to be determined with the help of a veterinarian, and an appropriate treatment plan implemented.

For most of the cows in the herd, though, limitations on cycling are likely to come from a lack of body weight or inadequate mineral status.

At the start of mating, mature cows will ideally have a minimum body condition score of 4.0. Regular monitoring of condition scores and liveweights in the lead-up to mating is the only practical way to ensure these goals are met. Once mating starts, it is much more difficult to address stock condition or size issues.

Feeding cows well in the lead-up to mating requires good management of pasture allocation and an awareness of the specific needs of at-risk cows. For the main herd, daily pasture intake targets should be 4% of liveweight. Any shortages can be made up by supplying a suitable high-energy supplement.

At-risk cows (e.g. lighter cows, those that have had calving problems, are lame, or have mastitis) may need special care to help them gain weight and hit the target condition score. There are several strategies that can be used to achieve this:

  • Form the group into a once-a-day milking herd, so less of their energy intake is dedicated to milk production
  • Reduce their daily walking distance, so they expend less energy
  • Offer them preferential feeding, either better grass allocation or additional supplementary feeds

Any supplement used should be high-quality and deliver the specific nutritional profile needed at this time.

Trace elements may also need to be added to the supplement, as cows require good mineral status for all aspects of mating, from cycling through to embryo implantation. Supplying trace elements on a little-and-often basis is best.

Milking Cows

The Case for Mineral Blocks

When animals are fed exclusively on pasture, it pays to take a close look at the minerals they’re getting – or not getting, as the case may be. Given that deficiencies are far from uncommon, it’s imperative to plug the nutritional gap.

Do you know your animals’ mineral requirements?

The answer to this question will likely depend on the season, type and age of the animal, crop types they’re receiving and other factors such as milk production or need for weight gain.

While demands can vary substantially, the importance of minerals is crucial at all times, for animal health and productivity.

The group of animals most at risk of mineral deficiencies include those that are only fed species-limited pasture: young stock, cows and heifers during the dry period, beef cattle and the like. Any deficiencies will manifest in poor animal health, ultimately with severe financial implications; hence the importance of supplementation.

SealesWinslow Nutrition and Quality Manager, Wendy Morgan, emphasises that the first priority is dosage and regularity of supplementation. However, when animals are on a run-off block, for instance, this becomes difficult to manage as the regular provision of minerals can be impractical, not to mention easily overlooked.

And yet, it may be exactly at this time when adequate mineral intake is of utmost importance. Young stock serve as a good example. Provide them with the right blend of minerals and essential oils, and you’ll help promote growth during the critical post-weaning period.

SealesWinslow’s Cattle Young Stock Block is designed with these precise needs in mind. Its formulation helps to stimulate appetite, feed intake and nutrient digestion, all of which leads to improved growth rates.

There really is a mineral block for every situation. What they all have in common is a compelling value proposition and peace of mind. “You’ll have certainty that the mineral needs of your animals are met … without any hassles whatsoever,” asserts Wendy.

The molasses-based blocks are formulated so that animals ingest just the right amount of nutrients. Based on typical consumption, it’s a cost-effective investment in animal health and farm productivity.

MINERAL CHECKLIST

  • Iodine – supports energy metabolism and milk production, vital for reproduction and heat detection;
  • Selenium – promotes disease resistance and milk production, reduces incidence of retained placenta; (Insufficient levels cause poor conception, lower growth rates in young stock.)
  • Copper – helps growth, production, immunity and reproduction; (Deficiency can prevent a cow from conceiving.)
  • Cobalt – necessary for the production of vitamin B12, motivates appetite;
  • Zinc - forms the keratin teat plug, helps fight mastitis and lowers the somatic cell count.

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