Friday, 16 September 2011

Cow Condition Score Your Herd Now Don't Wait until Winter

Outwintering on forage crops has become a popular low cost wintering option for dry cows & young stock in the UK. However practical lessons are being learnt from the leading exponents…..For example to get the best results you need to carefully select the best cows. Cows that are dried off thin are not suitable. Outwintering will show up poor management decisions made in the late lactation period back in the summer/autumn.

Regular monitoring of cow condition scores (BCS) on 4 spring calving herds in the UK has shown that very few dry cows put on condition when outwintered on forage crops. So one of the lessons from this on farm research was that you need to manage cow condition scores from mid lactation onward. Identify thinner cows now & start doing something about it. Our experience is that putting condition on high genetic quality NZ Bred cows in late lactation is very difficult. As you add feed the cows tend to milk better rather than put on extra condition. In our experimental herds the only cows to increase the BCS in late lactation were those milked OAD. This typically was about 10-15% of the herd.
To put on extra condition these cows need to be well fed…..perhaps residuals need to be at least 1650kgsDM/ha. Don’t wait until drying off to try to put on extra BCS if you are outwintering.
All dry cows have a very limited window where it is possible to put on extra condition. At best you could gain one NZ BCS but it must be done early in the first month of the dry period. To gain this extra BCS requires virtually a milker ration of full feeding of high quality ME feeds. Drying thin cows off early must help.
Cow Condition of pasture based dairy cows is closely linked to fertility & profitability. So it is seriously important to measure & monitor BCS now.
Dry cows outwintered on forage crops cope very well with the winter wet, cold air temperatures & often saturated or frozen soils. This is because of the “onboard heating” ruminants have as part of their metabolism (unlike humans). However we need to carefully calculate daily maintenance requirements taking into account the weather & soil conditions. If the forage crops are frozen, then this will add to the daily dry cow maintenance requirements too, as cows need to defrost & warm up the feed first & this takes energy. Conditions like last winter could mean that you need to feed 50% more just to maintain dry cows each day. Cows lying on cold wet soil will have higher maintenance requirements compared to dry soils. Research calculates cow maintenance figures from indoor fed trials so you need to judge temperature, wind chill factors & soil conditions & make changes to the daily feeding.
Dr David Stevens from Agresearch NZ visited the UK Midlands this week. He spoke about his outwintering trials in the lower half of the South Island which has a winter climate similar to much of the UK. His trial was with FJ XBred cows on Swedes plus baleage. “The intake of swedes by non-lactating dairy cows in late pregnancy, estimated by crop disappearance, was not significantly affected by allowance (6 or 8kgsDM Swedes) at one hour after allocation, being approximately 4 kg DM. However, the intake of the cows on the Low allowance was then limited by the availability of the forage having eaten approximately 80% of their daily allowance. The intake of cows offered the high allowance did not achieve 80% utilisation of the swedes until approximately 5 hours after allocation. The consumption of the supplements was similar on both allowances until 5 hours post allocation, irrespective of swede intake, indicating that the harvestibility of the crop may have influenced the rate of intake. The cows continued to consume forage as baleage and hay with intake diverging with time.
Metabolisable energy intakes were calculated as 103 and 149 MJME/cow/d (470kg LWT XBred cows) for the Low and High allowances respectively, demonstrating the significant requirements for dairy cows wintered outdoors, grazing crops in situ.”
The NZ Grasslands Society has a new website where it is possible to look up the conference proceedings from the past 75 years. It is easy to search papers that refer to out wintering & forage crops.
Current UK Pasture Measurements
On farm conditions in parts of the Midlands is now serious. Some farms in Shropshire have only received 100-150ml of rain all of this year. Pasture covers & growth are very low & feed reserves almost non existent. In Australia dairy farmers regularly invoke "Cow Parking Arrangements" when crisis occur like fire or floods. Some farmers in Wales(who have had an unbelievable year)  might be able to offer Cow Parking options???? 
I was in Dorset this week where conditions have recovered after a very dry early summer. Farms are on target to hit their autumn pasture targets. On a farm with Chicory & Plantain plus clover pastures.....growth rates on the Chicory & the Plantain have been double the pasture growth rates. Those "herb pastures" were sown onto poor performance old pastures. Three times the DM has been harvested by the herd & its 20%CP & 13ME!! Fantastic result Gary & Will.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
Cumbria, AFC 2600, growth 50, demand 48, clean grazing V difficult past 6 weeks, Mega wet August & Sept, pasture DM v low
Dumfries, Scotland, AFC 2360, growth 47, Growth & covers down cos wet & lower temps
Cheshire Organic, 1850, gr 15, de 29, feeding heavily rotation 48 days 18 litres/cow
Nth Wales, 2275, gr 45, de 43
Nth Wales 2400, gr 70, de 45
Staffordshire, 2300, gr 40, de 20, heavy feeding still very dry
Shropshire, 1600, gr 9, de 9, desparate for rain fully feeding herd. Only 150ml rain this year so far
Derbyshire, 2374, gr 49, de 52, PD cows 11% empty in 12 wks not as good as last yr
Herefordshire, 2000, gr 26, de 55, supplements 30, desparate for rain. Too busy feeding silage to watch rugby...its serious!
Herefordshire, 2240, gr 29, de 17 missed most of the rain but got 2mm
Pembrokeshire organic, 2250, gr 50, de 30 covers increasing no feeding yet
South West Wales 2460, gr 50, demand 40
Somerset Organic, 2500, gr 40, de 35
Hampshire 2726, gr 65, de 44
East Sussex, 2150, gr 35, 60% calved in 19 days Autumn calving
North Germany, AFC 1865, gr30 (500ml rain since start of August) very wet soils
Gloucestershire, 2550, gr 73, back on target


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