Spring update: Managing freshly calved cows at grass

Wednesday 30.03.2022 , News

The first three weeks after calving are pivotal for a cow’s lactation curve. For farmers this spring, it’s akin to walking a tightrope – balancing your forage amount and quality alongside unsteady weather and volatile feed and fertiliser prices.

It has been a mild spring so far, with promising conditions for grassland, but frosts are still a threat, stalling growth, and the coming wet weather inhibits dry matter (DM). Maximum milk yield generally occurs 6-8 weeks after calving, with peak intake occurring 10-12 weeks post-calving.

Unless carefully managed, she’ll begin to lose body condition and milk off her back (using energy from her fat reserves). If her body condition score (BCS) reduces by more than 0.5 from calving to breeding, you’ll face a multitude of problems – including reduced fertility.

Feed intake for early lactation

In the initial days after calving, total daily intake is around 11-12kg, increasing by 1- 1.2kg per week for the next four to five weeks. This then steadies to 0.5kg per week until around 10-12 weeks after calving, with a peak intake of 16-18 kg DM.

Based on the target feed intakes above, the aim is to provide at least 11-13kg DM of high-quality forage, which is mostly grazed. An additional 3-6kg of concentrate can help improve energy balance – but requirements are unique to each farm.

Monitor feed intake and animal performance to ensure cows are adequately fed. Beyond yield, intake and BCS, you can also look at dung consistency to flag any problems. If it is firm and forms mounds, it is probably low in protein and high in fibre. If loose and thin, it will be the opposite – high protein and low in fibre – which can lead to acidosis.

With the right grass to act as a foundation, and careful measurement and monitoring – you should be in a good position to manage feed intake for early lactation. For support on maximising grassland grazing quality, contact one of our forage experts.

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