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Energy availability, the key to cow productivity

The individuality of the dairy cow can sometimes be overlooked when building rations. But, having an understanding of how each cow’s nutritional requirements differ, particularly immediately pre and post-calving, could have a significant benefit on cow performance and productivity.

Rumenco technical adviser, Helen Rogers, explains how the synergies between the dairy cow and a machine are not dis-similar. ”They are both very sensitive to change, and are driven by an engine for which their performance is very much governed by the quality of the input. 

“Therefore, for the dairy cow, it’s vital to ensure rations are balanced and meet the needs of the individual cow to ensure she has the necessary nutrition to meet her full potential through each phase of the production cycle,” says Helen.

Dry cow and early lactation diets are a key focus for producers to support milk production, fertility and help reduce the risk of post-calving issues seen in high-yielding herds. “Energy availability is key during this period. In the run up to calving, ensuring cows have access to a balanced diet will stand them in good stead to support them through calving and the initial stages of lactation.

“A lack of available energy at this stage, particularly for high-yielding herds, can mean cows can end up ‘milking off their backs,’ resulting in a loss of condition due to the additional requirements on the body during peak lactation.

“During the winter months, post-calving weight loss can be even more prolific due to the change in temperatures and the additional energy being spent on maintenance,” adds Helen.

Rumenco has been working with Bio-Energy Ingredients (BEI) to bring a novel, patented multi-functional feed ingredient to the market.  Glycal Forte has been specifically formulated to deliver unique benefits with a focus on individual cow performance.

The chemistry behind Glycal Forte means it has been formulated to by-pass the rumen and deliver glycerol straight to the liver. Here it is transformed by enzymes to glucose, providing a direct source of energy for the cow to utilise without her having to draw from her own fat stores.

“For high-yielding herds this is key. The readily available energy means cows don’t have to break down as much body fat to fuel milk output. This really helps to maintain body condition post-calving, and reduce the risk of a negative energy balance which can lead to ketosis. 

“With more energy available, cows are also in a better position to come back into heat and hold to service.”

Helen adds, that once the protected glycerol reaches the abomasum, as well as releasing energy, the calcium in Glycal Forte reacts with hydrochloric acid to form water-soluble calcium chloride, a highly available source of calcium. “Again, this helps reduce the risk of post-calving issues such as hypocalcaemia (milk fever). And, the fact that Glycal Forte has a negative DCAD value means it can be fed to dry cows close to calving without concern.”

Increasing dry matter intake post-calving by raising rumen pH is another unique property of Glycal Forte. “The feed inclusion works as a very effective slow release rumen pH regulator to help correct the damaging effects of an acidic rumen post-calving.

“The chemistry of Glycal Forte means it responds directly to the individual acidity level of each cow, by increasing rumen pH levels to above the sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) threshold of 5.8, and maintaining rumen pH above these optimal levels. It’s this clever ability to respond directly to each cow’s requirements that makes Glycal Forte a bespoke solution.

“Not only does this improve protein supply, but also saves energy that rumen microbes would otherwise have used to counteract a low rumen pH,” she says.

The energy contributions provided by Glycal Forte are a revolutionary new concept in dairy nutrition, and it’s been proven in on-farm trials. “The majority of cow health problems occur within the first two weeks of lactation. However, understanding that each cow’s nutritional requirements differ, and ensuring she has access to a balanced diet with sufficient available energy, pre and post-calving, will help ensure she passes this two week risk period, fit, healthy and in peak condition,” says Helen.  

Mark Simpsons – Farmer case study

Mark Simpson and his family farm a 550 Holstein herd, near Bideford in Devon. In 2013, Mr Simpson introduced Glycal Forte into the ration of the high-yielding herd at Cleave Farm, on the recommendation from his nutritionist Robert Cope, and, as a result, he’s seen significant improvement in cow performance and productivity.

“In the past, we’ve had a history of poor fertility and post-calving metabolic issues. We knew that the farm and the cows weren’t meeting their full potential, and this is something we’ve worked on with Robert over the past five years,” says Mark.

“In 2010, average calving index was recorded at 423 days. This was something we wanted to improve, so in the four years that followed, we worked with Robert to reduce the calving index by 20 to 403 days. And, more recently by looking at our system, and in particular, at the ration and the inclusion of Glycal Forte, we’ve seen cow performance and productivity improve significantly again.

“We’ve now developed a pre and post-calving ration that means we are feeding Glycal Forte three weeks pre-calving for heifers and four for cows, followed by 200 days post-calving to support peak lactation, at a rate of 250g/cow/day.”

Since using this novel feed ingredient, Mark explains that cows are bulling quicker, from between 12 and 20 days, and average pregnancy rates have improved from 22% to 28%, with the best recorded at 31%. “This is because cows have the necessary energy readily available and have not suffered damaging weight loss post-calving,” he says.

“We’ve also seen milk yield increase from 8,500l/cow to 10,500l/cow in a relatively short period of time, which is significant for us.

“The main reason that I can put my finger on to explain this result, is the fact cows are maintaining condition well after calving, and have the energy available to convert straight to milk,” adds Mark.

“Like humans, if cows eat too much of a rich diet, they’re likely to get stomach ache. But, the inclusion of the rumen protected glycerol, Glycal Forte, has stopped the cows suffering in this way. They aren’t being selective and sorting the TMR, and they have an appetite once they’ve calved, which helps considerably with reducing the risk of post-calving issues.

“Having input from Robert has been key to us focusing on energy availability through ration inclusions which has helped us achieve these results. By taking a step back, assessing our system and being open to different ideas, we’ve been able to make a significant impact to cow performance and productivity through very minimal changes to our system as a whole,” says Mark.