Herd health, productivity suffer when nutrition program compromised

Carole Curtis

FORT ATKINSON - Cow health and productivity can suffer when a dairy's nutrition program is compromised.

Dairy managers can enhance milk production and improve cow well-being by implementing nutritional protocols.

Signs that a ration isn't working well can mean more transition health disorders than the farmer would like; low milk protein, milk fat and production levels; indigestion and GI issues, subacute rumen acidosis and laminitis.

Dairy managers can enhance milk production and improve cow well-being by implementing nutritional protocols, Dr. Bill Stone, Diamond V technical field services director, told listeners during the September "Hoard's Dairyman" webinar.

"Think about different management protocols that you can have in place to help your dairy reduce the risk of these and other nutrition related problems," Stone advised during the presentation sponsored by Kuhn ( and cohosted by Steve Larson, Hoard's Dairyman, and Dr. Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois.

Making a dairy ration work as well in the barn as it does on paper involves making top-quality feed and serving it to the dairy cow in the best possible condition for optimum consumption.

Quality feed

Start at the source, Stone advised. Knowing the condition of forages at ensiling time can eliminate surprises when the feed is eventually fed. Start moisture-testing and sorting bales when stacking for storage, for instance, and mark the outside of bags with pertinent load and test information.

Such information, recorded on a spreadsheet, will give a great idea of the feed available and help producers and nutritionists to get the most out of their forages, the best cow health and the most production. "Knowing things ahead of time is really where we want to be," he explained.

With bunkers, be sure to remove spoiled silage, remove enough silage to avoid heating, and weight the leading edge of the plastic down.

Keep the forage covered to preserve silage quality and pull away the plastic only as needed, Stone advised.

Using a defacer to take off all the variation across the face of the bunker and mixing it with the loader bucket before putting it in the mixer wagon is a good way to get more uniform silage for a more consistent diet.

Another way, particularly useful when bunkers are a ways from the loading area, is to run the silage solo through the TMR mixer before dumping in the rest of the recipe.

There should be no loose silage at the end of feeding, Stone noted.

Take silage samples at this point, since this is the mix and consistency that will be offered to the cows. Stone also likes to split batch samples, using one part for on-farm dry matter samples and  the other for a lab sample to compare the consistency of the two tests.

"That's important because sometimes we have a regular, consistent bias on our farm measurement and we want to correct that for the lab measurement, which we are going to view as the correct measurement," he explained.

Time for dinner

Assuming the TMR has been properly prepared and delivered, it is paramount that adjustments be made for changes in pen counts and intakes.

First off, everybody should know what their intakes are for their cows. "There is no excuse not to have accurate DMI and, of course, intakes should be monitored in all pens," Stone said.

Communication is critical. The farm manager needs to make sure the feed manager is on the same page when it comes to cow numbers, since moving cows to new pens changes the amount of feed that should be delivered.

Keep feed distributed along the whole length of the bunk and available by pushing it up throughout the day, Stone advised. That encourages cows to eat additional meals in a more relaxed manner.

Cows like to eat in certain areas, often at the end of their pens, so be sure to deliver additional feed to those popular spots.

The timing of feed delivery has an amazing effect. "Want to make some easy money? This is like a secret. Feed cows between milkings, rather than at milking," Stone said.

Research, borne out by results in the field, reveals that cows fed between milkings ate less and more slowly, had more frequent, smaller sized meals, and they made more milk.

Besides bolstering digestive health, the more leisurely feedings between milkings pushed income over feed costs (IOFC) up by $0.26. "That's simply by changing that feed times. That's pretty neat," Stone said.

Other ways to get more out of the ration is to never allow sorting, and target body condition score at freshening. Above all, do no harm.

As an example, Stone cited a dairy where technicians were waiting to check or infuse first lactation animals as they returned from milking, which quite effectively dampened their appetites.

The dairy thought it through and made changes: observing from a distance before targeting certain animals and giving them all more time to eat. Health measures improved.

"So design and implement protocols that address these areas, that take care of them so they're not a problem, and then sit back and reap the rewards," Stone said.