URBANA, Ill. — A fresh cow program that includes a focus on rations and cow comfort is important for all dairy herds.
“For the fresh cow ration, I like to see similar feed ingredients to the high group TMR,” said Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist emeritus. “And make sure you meet the amino acid requirements for the cows.”
The fresh cow ration should include functional fiber such as 2 to 4 pounds of effective fiber, which could be grass hay or 1 pound of processed straw, said Hutjens during a webinar hosted by Hoard’s Dairymen.
“The step-up program should change the nutrient levels by 10% to 15% between groups,” he said. “I’m going to step the starch up by 20% for the close-up group, 22% to 23% for the fresh cow ration and 25% to 28% for early lactation. I also add about 4% sugar in the close-up ration, 5% for fresh cows and 6% for the early lactation ration.”
At the U of I, researchers fed 10 to 12 grams of methionine to pre-fresh cows and 16 grams to post fresh dairy cows. The amino acid was fed for 60 days.
“The results showed 9 pounds more milk for the fresh cows and that carried through with 10 more pounds at peak milk,” Hutjens said.
The study also reported increases in dry matter intakes.
“The dry matter intake increased 2.6 pounds per day for the pre-fresh cows, 3.5 pounds per day for the fresh cows and 3.3 pounds per day at peak milk,” Hutjens said.
“The unique thing about methionine is it has some functions for immunity, animal health and reproduction,” he said. “The liver is much more functional, there is more neutrophil function which is white blood cells, there is a decrease in oxidative stress and there is less inflammation.”
In a research project at Michigan State University, fresh cows were fed added fatty acids for 21 days after calving.
“They looked at combinations of palmitic and oleic and after 21 days the cows went to a standard diet with no extra fat,” Hutjens said.
“There was a significant improvement in milk production of three pounds,” he said. “There was a nice increase in dry matter intake and no difference in plasma insulin, so I’d be looking at these amino acids.”
Subclinical hypocalcemia can result in an increase in metritis, post partum milk fever, more days open and it is associated with immune suppression.
To help reduce hypocalcemia, Hutjens said dairymen can put an anionic product into the ration.
“Then check the urine pH which should be 5.5 to 6 for Holsteins or 5 to 5.5 for Jerseys,” he said.
Another option is calcium supplementation with either a bolus or paste.
“One of the best ones is calcium chloride, and I like to come back with a bolus every 12 hours,” Hutjens said. “The boluses are pretty much metabolized in four to six hours, so I don’t think one bolus is enough to get the job done.”
Hutjens recommends moving cows out of the fresh cow diet in three to 10 days.
“My high producing cow ration has more nutrient density, so I want to get my good cows there as quickly as I can,” he said.
However, the dairy specialist does not encourage the move of unhealthy cows into another group.
“They may stay in that pen 30, 40 or 60 days,” he said.
Cow comfort is really important for fresh cows, and Hutjens said heifer groups are ideal if that is possible.
“Bunk space for Holsteins should be 30 inches and 24 to 25 inches for Jerseys,” he said. “Research shows milk production decreases by 1.6 pounds for every 6-inch decrease in bunk space.”
The fresh cow pen should have less than 90% capacity, Hutjens said, and sand bedding in the stalls is the gold standard.
Hutjens identified several key performance indexes to determine if the fresh cow rations are working well.
- Culling rates for first lactation cows under 4% and for older cows under 7%.
- Metabolic disorders for DA under 5% and retained placentas under 8%.
- Feed additives that include: 125 to 175 grams of rumen buffer, 20 to 120 grams of yeast culture, 300 to 500 milliliters of propylene glycol, 400 milligrams of monensin, 3 to 5 grams of rumen protected niacin and 15 grams of rumen protected choline.
- Solid trace mineral program that includes 6 to 8 milligrams of chromium.
“Dairymen should develop early warning signals that detect little problems in their fresh cow program before they become big problems,” Hutjens said. “Use timely treatment and appropriate protocols to reduce the number of cows that have to be culled in early lactation.”
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