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FEEDING THE TRANSITION SUCKLER COW

In the dairy sector, dry cow management is one of the key and most challenging
aspects of milk production. Getting the dry cow period right promotes easier
calvings, stronger calves, primes the cow for the subsequent lactation and even
influences fertility. In the month’s livestock nutrition article, David Thornton from
Rumenco outlines what the region’s suckler producers can learn from the dairy
approach.

Dairy farmers who place a lot of emphasis on dry cow management find that overall herd
health and productivity benefit tremendously. For suckler producers the issues may not
quite so complex, but for those that get dry cow management and nutrition right the
benefits are just as rewarding.

Dry suckler cows require feed for maintenance and the growth of their unborn calves,
must be primed for the demands of lactation and prepared for re-breeding. Suckler cows
also need time to rest and recuperate, as well as the opportunity to repair their digestive
and mammary systems. The dry period affords this opportunity, but – as in the dairy
sector – it is also the ideal time to address feet and mobility issues, and improve the
mineral and vitamin status of these cows before the bull goes back in.

For example, low levels of selenium and/or vitamin E can lead to poor muscle tone in the
cow, which means calvings will be much more difficult. A deficiency in the cow can also
mean a deficiency in the newborn calf, which translates into difficulty in standing or
walking due to muscle degeneration. Other signs of selenium deficiency include reduced
fertility.

Vitamin E deficiency is not usually a problem when dry autumn calving suckler cows are
at grass in the summer, but it can be a problem over the winter in housed situations.

More common in the summer at pasture is copper deficiency, another mineral linked to
fertility. Pastures across the north of England are inherently low in copper, as many
grass samples taken from the region show, so good copper supplementation in the run
up to calving is the perfect opportunity to redress the balance and often pays dividends
in terms of subsequent fertility.

Calcium and magnesium, too, are important minerals for the dry suckler cow. Both these
macro minerals are essential for strong muscle contractions, but there are also cations
that – if incorrectly balanced – can predispose the cow to metabolic problems like milk
fever. Magnesium is a very important mineral for suckler cows and the stress of cold,
wet weather or calving can easily trigger grass staggers.

In many suckler herds, improved fertility is the route to better profitability. And with
mineral deficiencies at the root of many a herd’s fertility problems, improved dry cow
nutrition is often the key that unlocks better performance.

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