A successful breeding season starts with early lactation management. Getting cows off to the best possible start in early lactation is critical on every dairy farm. During spring, it is essential to ensure that the nutrient intake of the cow is adequate to meet her needs. Poor management during this important stage can lead to reduced intakes and losses in body condition score (BCS), leading to fertility issues, which can have a significant impact on a dairy farm’s bottom line.
Three ways to optimize dairy cow fertility
1. Close the energy gap
In early lactation, cows will inevitably be in a negative energy balance, meaning they are not able to take in as much energy as they require because their peak milk yield occurs before their peak in dry matter intake. Therefore, they will lose a certain amount of condition. Managing cows appropriately can minimize BCS loss during this period. One way this can be done is by feeding a diet that will encourage intake and provide adequate energy.
Often in early lactation, European cows are in a situation where they are being fed grazed grass, grass silage and concentrates. This may be cost effective, but it is not ideal for rumen conditions.
2. Maximize immunity and health
Early lactation is typically a period of stress for the cow, as there are a number of physiological and nutritional changes during this time. It is critical to ensure she has an optimal immune status during early lactation in order to maximize fertility.
Some cows will have a higher risk of uterine infections due to retained placenta and metritis after calving. Uterine infections and ovarian problems will inevitably have an effect on fertility.
Trace minerals, such as selenium, play a key role in maintaining a healthy immune system in the calving period. Other trace minerals, such as copper, and major minerals, such as phosphorus, play key roles in ovulation and cycling; if there is a deficiency in either, the possibility of anoestrus becomes more likely.
Research has proven that feeding these trace minerals in their organic form — for example, Bioplex® Copper, Bioplex® Zinc and Sel-Plex®, an organic form of selenium from Alltech — leads to these minerals being better absorbed, stored and utilized by the animal.
3. Look after the rumen
The rumen is essentially the engine that drives the cow. The key to getting more from feed is to ensure that the rumen is working as efficiently as possible.
Increased nutrient absorption allows for more milk production and also reduces the need for the cow to take these valuable nutrients from its own body reserves. This depletion of body reserves lies at the core of cow health and infertility issues.
The rumen is not designed for abrupt changes, so it is recommended that cows are gradually introduced to grass in early lactation and, if possible, are brought in at night for the first seven to 10 days after calving. If turned out abruptly, it is likely that the cow’s grass intake will not be enough to meet her energy requirements. This will have a negative impact on her BCS. The increase in starch and sugar levels in the diet during this period will cause a decrease in the pH levels in the rumen.
The use of Yea-Sacc® from Alltech has been proven to promote a higher rumen pH when fed to cows on grass in early lactation (Al Ibrahim et al., University College Dublin, 2013).
Early lactation can be a challenging time for farmers, but implementing these management tips will give your herd the best chance of getting back in calf this spring.
Watch our “Don’t compromise on cow fertility” webinar for more tips on optimizing fertility.