Winter Nutrition Update 2018

Three of the United Feeds’ advisory team – Andrew Fyffe, Sam Watson and Norbury Royle sat down recently to discuss the key challenges that will confront milk producers on-farm over the coming months and the steps that can be taken to address these issues. Dry cow management is not featured here but suffice to say it remains critical to the performance of any dairy herd.

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Silage Quality

There was agreement that most dairy farmers in Northern Ireland have sufficient silage and other forages in store to get them through the winter. The only group not fitting in with this general assumption are producers in parts of North Down and the Ards Peninsula where the warm, dry conditions of June and July past did impact significantly on grass growth however the good autumn allowed for later housing and opportunities for harvesting some late swards in this area too.

Andrew Fyffe:

“Farmers in most areas were able to make very large crops of third cut silage which, given the reduced second cut crop means some farms are more reliant on this than they normally might be. While many of these forages are testing very well, their actual feeding value is well below what would have been expected and consequently these forages are not delivering the level of performance required as a base for feeding freshly calved cows.”

Sam Watson:

“Ideally wet, third cut silage should be mixed with other forages, such as second or first cut. Because silages made in September and October were often ensiled in front of better-quality grass harvested earlier in the year it makes those crops more difficult to get at but it really is worth the effort to make these higher quality forages available now and include these in the TMR mix fed to milking cows. It’s an approach that will help boost dry matter intakes and overall performance.”

Norbury Royle:

“As a general rule of thumb, third cut silages should not be fed to dry cows. The likelihood is that these forages are high in potash which predisposes cows to a host of metabolic problems post calving.High potash silages can be fed to young stock. The bottom line is that the feeding of the dry cow is vital to achieving maximum milk yield and milk quality and any doubts on the mineral content of silage for dry cows should be checked out by a specific mineral analysis.


Andrew Fyffe:

“Many silages made this year contain high levels of soil contamination. This is a carry-over from 2017 when many fields were rutted as a result of the very bad weather. As a consequence, mowers set at very low cutting heights this year were disturbing large quantities of soil as they traversed fields set aside for silage. This was further exacerbated when swards were being tedded or rowed as the rakes mixed loose soil through the crop.”

“Silages that have significant levels of soil contamination are predisposed to mould growth. This leads to the production of mycotoxins, which can impact severely on cow performance.”

“Looking ahead to the 2019 silage season, rolling of all silage fields prior to cutting is strongly advised.”

Sam Watson:

“Silages that have dry matters in excess of 40% are also prone to heating at feed-out and the production of moulds. Farmers should also be aware of the fact that the TMRs they feed to cows should have an optimal moisture content of 45 -50%. If the TMR is too dry, this will lead to the separation of the ration, with the result that cows can preferentially pick out the concentrate fraction which can lead to an imbalance of the forage to concentrate ratio leading to acidosis and other issues.”

“In cases where rations are exceptionally dry, water should be added to the feeder wagon.”

Norbury Royle:

“Mycotoxins will have a major impact on cow performance. Signs to look out for include a drop-off in milk output, perhaps a tendency for looser or inconsistent manure and swollen hocks all leading to a significant reduction in body weight. Fluctuations in milk quality can also be an indication mycotoxins are present. In cases where soil contamination and mould growth are issues, the effect of mycotoxins can be neutralised by the inclusion of a suitable binder such as Mycosorb.

Calf Rearing

Andrew Fyffe:

“Pneumonia and scour problems are rearing their heads on many dairy farms at the present time. These issues reflect the fact that many dairy farms are now calving the year round and are not getting the opportunity to fully cleanse housing facilities.

“Cow numbers have also increased but in many cases the calf rearing facilities have not increased in size in line with this expansion.”

“The respiratory system of calves is very vulnerable. Lungs finish developing relatively late in life; only when the calf is 2 years old are the lungs fully mature. As a result, they have very little reserve capacity and need to be protected.”

Sam Watson:

“Overstocking of houses, I believe not only contributes to increased risk of pneumonia but is also partly responsible for the increased incidence of coccidiosis and other scours in growing calves.”

“Coccidiosis is an increasingly common cause of diarrhoea in young calves. Weight loss can be significant. However, acute gut damage is caused by the parasitic infection, which will have long-term implications for growth in beef animals and milk production in dairy animals.”

“Once the problem arises, breaking the cycle is extremely difficult.”

Norbury Royle:

Maintaining good respiratory and intestinal health is of the upmost importance to ensure a calf reaches its potential.

“Intestinal damage can reduce nutrient absorption throughout the lifetime of the animal, lowering daily liveweight gain and slowing growth rates.

“Greenline EMX is a nutritional control available in products from United Feeds to maintain the normal nutritional balance of a healthy digestive system in the presence of Coccidia or Cryptospordia.

“It acts by destroying the protozoa, reducing their impact on the intestine. It also maintains cell integrity and has anti-inflammatory properties to maintain nutrient absorption so the animal can make the most of their diet.”

United Feeds also now provide the option of purchasing both their Advance and Nutristart calf milk replacers with Pulmo+ included.

Pulmo+ is a natural additive for calves with essential oils which offer extra protection to the growing calf in the respiratory and intestinal tract.