Specialist nut complements grass-based dry cow diet
Feeding a palatable dry cow nut that’s perfectly balanced for grass-based dry cow diets is proving its worth at Rockhallhead Farm, where cows are getting off to a better start post-calving.
“We’re very pleased,” says dairy farmer, Nigel Boyd, who runs 120, all-year-round calving cows. “The cows are calving well. We’re pleased with how they’re milking after calving. They appear to be getting to peak better.”
Nigel started feeding Trans-LINK 4000 dry cow nut about three months ago following advice from Mole Valley Farmers Nutritionist, Chris Dunlop.
Like many farms, dry cows at Rockhallhead are fed a grass silage and hay-based diet over the six week dry period. In the summer, they are also provided with zero grazed grass.
Grass is high risk for dry cows as it often includes a high Dietary Cation Anion Balance (DCAB), which influences the metabolic pH status of the cow. Grass can also be hugely variable in DCAB, ranging from +300 to +800 mEq/kg DM. Critically around calving, a high DCAB in the diet will put the cow into a more alkaline state, reducing her ability to mobilise calcium from her skeletal reserves and increasing the risk of milk fever.
Although Nigel never experienced issues with clinical milk fever, Chris says there’s always a possibility of subclinical disease “bubbling below the surface” on grass-based diets, which could be holding back cow performance.
Chris regularly tests the farm’s forages for quality and routinely tests forage mineral levels as part of his role as the farm’s nutritionist. By using Mole Valley Farmers’ Precision Nutrition rationing software, Chris identified that the total dry cow diet had a DCAB above the target of between -40 and +70 mEq/kg DM
“The diet had a high DCAB of 300-400 mEq/kg DM,” Chris explains. “By feeding Trans-LINK 4000, which includes a balance of anionic salts to pack a punch against high DCAB, the dietary DCAB is now at a much safer level of around 30 mEq/kg DM."
Far-off dry cows now receive 2kg per head per day of the nut, plus grass silage and straw. Two to three weeks before they calve, they are moved onto a loose straw yard and fed 4kg per head per day of the nut.
Nigel says the nuts suit the system as it’s not practical to mix a ration for small groups of dry cows. The nuts can simply be sprinkled on the forage. It’s also proved palatable.
“We tried a similar idea a year ago and the cows weren’t eating it. It was quite unpalatable. We tried this (Trans-LINK 4000) and we’ve had no problems with intake. It’s clean and easy to take. They like it,” he adds.
Chris has also tweaked the level of phosphorus being fed to dry cows and milkers. This follows blood tests on downer cows which identified phosphorus deficiencies. This was mirrored by silage analysis tests.
Yeast helps milk from forage
Incorporating a yeast into the parlour concentrate is helping to support rumen function and forage utilisation in the 120 cows herd where 47% of production comes from forage.
Nigel believes a move to zero grazing has been one of the main reasons milk from forage has climbed to such a level. This system has enabled grass from high ground with limited water supply to be delivered directly to cows.
With the milking herd reliant on grass silage and zero grazed grass, Chris has advised incorporating a live yeast into the parlour concentrate. X1-LIVETM Yeast helps create an anaerobic rumen environment in which fibre digesting bacteria can thrive.
“We push forage as much as we can in the diet. The better we get the cows to digest forage, the more milk from forage we’ll get. That’s where a live yeast can help. The Fleckvieh breed also lends itself to this system,” adds Chris.
• 170 acres
• Family farm including Nigel, father Nigel and sons Ross and Rory
• 120 predominately Fleckvieh cross Holstein cows
• 8,000 litres per cow per year at 4.6% fat and 3.5% protein
• 47% milk from forage
• Cows fed on a grass silage-based diet with zero grazed grass fed at night in the summer to supplement grazing by day.
For more information about Trans-LINK 4000 and advice on dry cow rationing, please call the Feed and Nutritionist Line 01278 444829.