Grouping to meet the needs of high producing cows

Feeding in groups with different energy levels is good for high producing cows.
Vilomix Cattle Consultant Thomas Rosenberg has written an article on the subject.
 

The importance of the mobilisation phase is illustrated by the loss in top yield – due to health problems in early lactation – tending to follow the cow, with lower daily production throughout the lactation period.  

It is only possible to have (and maintain) a high producing herd when calving and start-up are successful. 

The period following calving is when the cow is most vulnerable to a range of diseases. 

We therefore need to use feeding and management to give extra attention to dry cows up to calving, and to startup cows. The same applies on the mineral front, where a cow’s immune system can be boosted by addition of the right vitamins and minerals. 

The mobilisation phase 

The mobilisation phase (often referred to as the startup phase) is the period from calving until the cow starts to put on weight again. Its length varies from around 50 – 70 days, depending on lactation number and energy level in the feed ration. 

It's a period often referred to as the high producing cow’s dilemma, because milk production shortly after calving is at a level when the cow’s energy requirement is greater than its capacity to extract energy from its feed. It goes into a negative energy balance, resulting in depletion of the body's reserves, and often with extra strain on the liver. The process affects various organs and tissues, and the cow becomes vulnerable to digestive and metabolic disorders. 

Give your startup cows extra attention 

The big changes in a cow’s physiological status when calving and in early lactation require extra focus during this period. This is only possible to give when separating them during the mobilisation period, to give them good physical facilities, with plenty of space in relation to the amount of feeding and lying space, and comfort. 

The need for energy uptake requires the addition of a feed ration with the highest energy level possible, given that we have to respect the need for adequate fibre level. Adding a high-energy ration with a fibre level that is too low will lead to rumen acidosis. That will only put more strain on the cow, with the risk of clinical ketosis, fatty liver and subsequent displaced abomasum. 

The importance of the mobilisation phase is illustrated by the loss in top yieldt – due to health problems in early lactation – tending to follow the cow, with lower daily production throughout the lactation period.  

It is only possible to have (and maintain) a high producing herd when calving and start-up are successful. 

The cow’s cycle from calving, through lactation to a new dry period can be seen as being divided into several periods. The task here is to cater for the cow’s needs as well as possible, and to ensure that the genetic potential is utilised, while retaining high health status. This is possible during all periods, except the mobilisation phase. 

If we are to succeed with averting the consequences of the natural negative nutritional balance in relation to calving and the start of new lactation, the mobilisation period depends on two other periods:  The close-up period (the last 2-3 weeks before calving), and late lactation. 

Correct feeding and management during the close-up period must prevent calving-related diseases that weaken the cow, and cause poor immune system performance. Even the best feeding and conditions during the mobilisation period cannot compensate for errors during the key close-up period. 

The problem with cows with too much fat late in lactation – and therefore when dry – is nothing new, but if the reason lies in a higher feed level, it becomes more pronounced. 

Grouping offers the opportunity of ‘spoiling’ the right cows 

Taking a look back in history, we can see that the innovative approach expressed by the launch of TMR feeding proved to not only be rational and effective, but also a stroke of genius for the cow, leading to higher production. Given the feed level at that time and successful reproduction, the system has worked well for many years. 
But we now see problems related to TMR feeding in the high-producing herds with a feed level of 25 – 27 kg TS, in which a number of the late-lactating cows will eat more feed than their production justifies, and thus become dry with fat above the recommended level, which increases the risk of problems when calving and during the mobilisation phase.  

Fat must be controlled in lactation. It cannot and should not be significantly changed during the dry period, when the cow must never lose weight, as that would increase the risk of fatty liver considerably. 

TMR feeding has mean an inclination to provide the same ration throughout lactation. Given the large herd expansions in recent years, which are correct and necessary, we’ve seen mixer wagons grow correspondingly.  

Maybe it’s time for a new approach? Perhaps the next time the mixer wagon needs to be replaced with a smaller model, providing the opportunity to do what makes the difference, as stated in connection with the cow's cycle: to meet the needs of the cow, and to change feeding to two rations with a difference of around 3 kg TS.  

The high-energy ration should be added for new-calvers and 1st calves – the rest to the lower feed level.  

Success with grouping is contingent on the cows being in groups with around the same feed intake capacity, i.e. smaller cows spend more time on the high-energy ration, larger cows are moved earlier to the group with lower feed level. Correspondingly, two rations are needed for dry cows. But it will be possible to cater for the close-up group without necessarily having to make a separate mix. 

Grouping also makes better and more economical addition of minerals possible, as the cows with the greatest need can be prioritised highest, and those with less need can manage with a lower addition.  Cows in the mobilisation phase can be catered for with the addition of e.g. an extra natural vitamin E, organic microminerals, plus, perhaps, active yeast and rumen-protected cholin to boost liver function, which is a limiting factor when switching metabolism from dry to high milk production. 

Given the experience and know-how we have with a large number of well-run herds, the message is: 

Be consistent – and never compromise with feed.