New concept for dairy profitability unveiled at Farm Open Day


Feeding newly calved dairy cows for better health and fertility, at the expense of production, is likely to pay dividends advised Heygates’ Nutritionist Dr Wilf Retter at a recent open day in Warwickshire. The Heygates annual farm open day was held at Mr Tim Sinnott’s farm in Congerstone and was attended by over 40 local dairy farmers. 

Dr Retter explained how the ration in the very early stages of lactation should be adjusted to hold production down instead of pushing for maximum yield. This limits the energy deficit and helps maintain body condition.  The Fresh Cow Concept, which follows this principle, is being introduced across the UK following more extensive trials in Holland.  Although initial production may be as much as eight litres lower than if fed a more conventional ration the benefits in cow health and fertility are very rewarding and justify the changes which have to be made.   After twenty one days on a fresh cow regime the cows are switched to the main production ration and milk production increases steeply without the usual drain on body reserves.

Dr Retter described a large survey of dairy herds in Pennsylvania, US, which showed twenty five per cent of cows were  lost during the first sixty days of lactation from the two and a half thousand herds surveyed. The main conclusion made from this study was that eighty per cent of problems during lactation were caused by poor management either during the transition period or the period immediately after calving. The Fresh Cow concept is part of a pro-active management programme designed to overcome this problem.

The aim is to manage and feed the fresh cow for the first three weeks after calving to minimise weight loss, improve immunity and fertility, reduce culling and increase lifetime production.   It is important that the cow condition is also controlled in late lactation. It may be necessary to add extra protein to late lactation rations in order to stop these cows getting over fat.

The Fresh Cow Ration should be palatable with high intake quality forages being essential during this period. The type of energy should be derived from starch and sugars which are sources of glucogenic energy.   This type of energy is particularly good to initiate bulling activity. The inclusion of added fat, although boosting the energy supply, does rely on good liver function at a time when the liver is already overworked by mobilised reserves.   It is therefore advisable to limit the inclusion of added fat in fresh cow diets in order to assist liver function. Good rumen function is another must and the correct balance of effective fibre must be maintained.  However, the main specification of the Fresh Cow feeding regime is to control the protein level of the ration to a maximum of 15% which helps ensure that there is a slow rise to peak milk yield.

As the Fresh Cow ration is offered for a relatively short period it is economic to include some valuable key nutrients, in particular to benefit liver function. Adding specific fatty acids may also be useful to reduce butterfat levels during the first days of lactation which can also help reduce the energy requirement and therefore the deficit.

The implementation of the Fresh Cow Concept was illustrated on two very different dairy units that Wilf Retter had visited in Holland. One unit, averaging 9000 litres was using a TMR ration which was managed as three production groups fed three separate mixes. The Fresh cows were fed on a specific ration for three weeks, moved to a production ration and then, depending on yield, stage of lactation and cow condition introduced to a third lower energy, high protein TMR ration, designed to control cow condition.

An elite 12,500 litre average smaller unit was managed in one group and were milked and fed concentrates through robots. In addition an out of parlour feeder dispensed two different feeds and the forages and further concentrates were fed in a partial TMR. By changing the ratios of the various concentrates the requirement of the Fresh Cow group was met to benefit health and fertility.

On both units visited in Holland the extra management input during the fresh cow period was becoming part of their normal management practice. Heygates have introduced Fresh Cow Pellets as a feed for immediately after calving.  This new product will contain a low level of protein but include the key nutrients and if necessary specific fatty acids to control butterfat and will be fed as part of the total Fresh cow diet.