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CLINTONVILLE – During this time of low milk prices and other economic challenges, dairy producers are looking for cows that are healthy, maximize milk production, and have high conception rates.

Dr. Phil Cardoso, Dairy Research and Extension Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, told a group of dairy producers from Northeastern Wisconsin recently that studies have shown that with proper management and nutrition, cows can achieve both high fertility and high milk production.

“Reproduction is often affected by events that occur early in lactation,” he said. “Even a single clinical disease can reduce reproduction, but multiple subclinical diseases can be devastating.”

Pregnancy factors

He cited these seven that affect pregnancy:

  • Minimizing BCS loss and resolving postpartum uterine infection
  • Detecting heat and inseminating at the correct time (Day 0)
  • Ovulation and fertilization of a high quality oocyte (Day 1)
  • Have an early increase in P4 secretion (Day 3 to 7)
  • Early and appropriate uterine histotroph production (Day 6 to 13)
  • A large embryo producing adequate quantities of Interferon tau
  • Maternal recognition of pregnancy (alter uterine prostaglandin secretion, Day 16 to 18)

“Post-calving energy balance is not correlated with milk yield or solids-corrected milk (SCM),” Cardoso explained. “Post-calving energy balance is highly correlated with dry matter intake (DMI).”

He noted that in a typical gestation-lactation cycle a cow body’s store of energy is used for milk production. The body’s store of energy is regained for the next lactation and mammary involution and regeneration occur during the dry period.

“Cows fed even moderate-energy diets during the dry period easily over-consume energy relative to requirements. Controlled energy diets prepartum resulted in a better metabolic status postpartum,” he related.

Proper diet

Cardoso suggested feeding 28 pounds of DMI per cow each day three weeks before calving.

“Cows that are thin before calving mobilize more protein after calving,” he said. “Cows can consume enough energy to meet requirements during transition period from a variety of diets, but dry cows will easily consume more energy than they require.”

He recommended a dry matter diet of alfalfa hay, alfalfa silage, corn silage, wheat straw and concentrate mix. He warned that even modest overfeeding could lead to a 75% increase in visceral adipose tissues that drain directly to liver that are the “bad fat” deposits in humans.

Cardoso offered the following dietary recommendations for dry cows:

  • Crude protein: 12 – 14% of DM
  • Metabolizable protein(MP):1,200g/d
  • Starch content: 12 to 16% of DM
  • NDF from forage: 40 to 50% of total DM or 4.5 to 5 kg per head daily (~0.7 – 0.8% of BW). Target the high end of the range if more higher-energy fiber sources (like grass hay or low-quality alfalfa) are used, and the low end of the range if straw is used (2-5kg).
  • Total ration DM content: 55% (add water if necessary)
  • Minerals and vitamins: follow guidelines (For close-ups, target values are 0.40% magnesium (minimum), 0.35 – 0.40% sulfur, potassium as low as possible, a DCAD of near zero or negative, 0.27% phosphorus, and at least 1,500 IU of vitamin E).

Adding amino acids

Cardoso cited recent studies to illustrate that serum with amino acids, vitamins and methionine significantly reduced the loss of embryos.

“There was improved postpartal performance in dairy cows supplemented with rumen-protected methionine during the peripartal period.” he said.

He advised providing cows with a high DMI immediately after calving.

“Amino acid balancing (methionine and lysine) from pre- fresh to confirmed pregnancy may not only improve milk production and composition, it may also improve embryo quality and reduce early embryo losses,” he stressed.

Cardoso recommended these dietary ingredients:

  • Adequate crude protein (13% Dry & 16% Lactation)
  • Metabolizable methionine in TMR (30 g/d dry and 46 g/d Lactation) 15 g/d Dry and 20 g/d Lactation of rumen-protected methionine
  • Metabolizable lysine in TMR (84 g/d Dry & 129 g/d Lactation) ~ 26 g/d Dry and 36 g/d Lactation rumen-protected lysine.

“If the pregnancy rate or your herd is 20 percent strive for 25 percent and if your embryonic death rate is 15 percent try to get it down to 10 percent,” he said.

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