Lactation education

Feed dairy cows from birth to lactation

Dairy cows, whether exotic, hybrid or crossbred, if not well cared for in terms of feed, housing and protection from disease, can remain unproductive and prone to disease decreasing the farmer’s income. .

Experts advise that dairy cows, especially 400 kilograms, should be fed about 15 kilograms of roughage dry matter.

Feeding costs can reach 70% of the total production cost. The profitability of a dairy farming business therefore depends on the quality of feed management. Some of the targets you can work on are:

• Calf weaned at three months or less to reduce milk feed costs.

First insemination of the heifer at 15 months or less so that the first calving is at 24 months or less. The profitability of a cow is reduced if the first calving exceeds the age of 26 months.

• Average milk production of at least 20 liters per cow per day.

Cattle are fed for maintenance of body weight and for production. If maintenance requirements are not met, the animal will use its body weight to maintain essential metabolic functions, thereby losing weight or milk production. Production is expressed in terms of weight gain or milk yield.

A growing animal should regularly take at least 500-800g per day for you to achieve weaning and insemination goals.

A calf that loses weight will need more time to compensate for the losses. At today’s cost of inputs and the price of milk, anyone who wants to make dairy farming a business should aim for a minimum production level of 20 liters of milk per cow per day.

This can only be achieved if the cows are well fed from birth to lactation. Malnourished cows will reduce their milk production, using the few nutrients available for maintenance. Here are some suggestions on how best to achieve growth and production goals.

Calves are fed milk according to their body weight. It is therefore necessary to record the weight of the calf at birth and then every two weeks thereafter.

Accurate weights are usually obtained from fasted animals, so weigh the calf before feeding it in the morning. Heart circumference measurements provide good weight estimates.

Place a band just behind the front calf legs, record the circumference in centimeters and convert to weight using standard conversion tables. However, weight tapes are available in the market from which you can directly read the weight of the animal.

These nutrients can be supplied from milk fed at 10% of their body weight per day.

From the age of 6 months, switch to a cheaper young livestock supplement (at the rate of one to two kilograms per day depending on the animal’s condition and the quality of pasture or fodder) until the age of 12 months.

Water and an appropriate mineral supplement, usually called a “leaf licker”, should be available throughout the day. If you have limited resources, just use one kilogram of ground grain per heifer, per day, instead of the young stock supplement, but you will miss the first insemination target. Also, if you have good quality pasture or forage, you can skip supplementing your heifers beyond six months and achieve reasonable growth.

Monitor the body condition of heifers from 12 months. Overfeeding can result in overfat heifers with reduced conception rates.

Inseminate the heifer when she reaches three quarters of the average adult weight of her breed. For example, for breeds with an average adult cow weight of 400 kilograms, the first insemination can take place when they weigh 300 kilograms.

It may therefore be necessary to postpone the first service to the second or third heat for undernourished, slow growing heifers.

Feed the heifer pregnant

Conception after insemination depends on the quality of the heifer’s diet. Malnourished heifers are likely to show no signs of heat and may not conceive on first service.

Heifers that conceive can be kept on pasture or cut fodder with supplemented young stock at the rate of one to two kilograms per day and adequate mineral supplementation to meet the growth of the heifer herself and the calf that she wears. In the third trimester of gestation, the heifer supplement can be changed to dairy meal.

Steaming heifers and pregnant cows

Steaming involves feeding large amounts of dairy meal to cows and heifers before calving. This is done during the last six and eight weeks before calving for cows and heifers respectively. The purpose of steaming is to:

•Provide nutrients to meet the demands of pregnancy. The highest rate of development of calf, embryonic and mammary tissue occurs during the last trimester of gestation, hence the nutrient requirements of cows and heifers are high at this time.

•Ensuring a healthy calf at birth, more resistant to disease and growing faster.

•Provide more nutrients to meet the high demand of the upcoming lactation.

• Stimulate udder development in heifers and udder renewal (renovation) in cows.

Feeding the lactating heifer

Lactating cows are fed good quality roughage/roughage and dairy meal at the rate of one kilogram of dairy meal for every 1.5 liters of milk produced above five kilograms.

If forage quality is poor, you will need to feed more dairy meal, but do not exceed 40% of total feed intake per day. This will of course increase your cost of producing milk, which will eat into your profits.

Dr. Lusweti is Animal Nutritionist and Senior Research Director, Kalro