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0108 PD: A bulkier ration leads to healthier cows

Published on 21 December 2007

Taller is better when Lawson Spicer formulates a close-up ration for Skyward Dairy.“We want a pretty bulky ration,” says Spicer, a nutritionist based in Claremont, California.

“Our emphasis is on trying to get healthy cows and not pushing the cow too hard before calving.”

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Thus, the ration for the close-up cows on the 2,400-cow dairy in Hartley, Texas, is formulated to include lots of effective fiber and anionic minerals. Spicer says the ration has helped to minimize cases of milk fever and post-calving displaced abomasums (DAs).

The key to Spicer’s less dense, bulky close-up ration is its forages. The ration includes wheat silage, alfalfa hay, oat hay and corn silage. At Skyward Dairy, the longer-stemmed oat hay is the ingredient that gives the ration most of its bulk. It’s an ingredient that is palatable but low in energy. For other dairies where oat hay is not available, Spicer substitutes wheat hay or Bermuda grass. He cautions that alfalfa hay in particular can include higher levels of potassium and dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD), which if fed to close-up cows can contribute to increased incidence of milk fever. Spicer includes corn silage in the ration to provide a carrier for the less palatable anionic minerals.

“I want the result of this ration to be an animal that is not too heavily conditioned and a foundation of fiber in the rumen so that when the fresh cow is starting to eat more grain she is able to handle it better,” Spicer says.

Spicer says the added energy from grain or other sources fed to fresh cows can increase the potential for retained placentas and metritis. Getting more fiber into the rumen prior to calving is one of Spicer’s ways to minimize these risks.

During dairy visits, Spicer asks his clients about their incidence of fresh cow problems, including DAs, milk fever, metritis and ketosis. If the incidences of these metabolic issues or involuntary culling rates increase, Spicer says it may make him evaluate the close-up and fresh cow rations and their ingredients During the dry period, he also asks his clients to monitor close-up cow urine pH every other week. It’s a red flag to Spicer, if pH levels do not remain between 6 and 7.

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“The dry period can be real critical to success,” Spicer says. “If we have a lot of transition period problems, then the dairy’s not going to be making much money.” PD

Lawson Spicer

Nutritionist

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