Taking steps to improve dry cow nutrition can significantly reduce incidences of metabolic disease within the herd, improving overall efficiency and profitability if the results of a trial comparing metabolic disease incidence rates in cows fed a conventional dry cow diet, against cows fed a high-fibre Keenan MechFiber mix are anything to go by.

Based on a reduction in health issues around calving, findings from the trial indicate that an average 148-head milking herd could expect to achieve a financial benefit in excess of £11,000/year.

According to Chris Lord, UK InTouch manager for Alltech, dry cow management is often led to chance and can prove costly. Instead, he said producers should focus on delivering a consistent ration with optimum structure during the dry period.

“Getting it wrong pre-calving can be detrimental. If cows aren’t adequately prepared for calving and the transition into lactation, they’re unlikely to achieve their full yield potential,” he explains.

“There’s also an increased risk of metabolic diseases, such as displaced abomasums (DA), retained cleansings and milk fever.”

The costs associated with these diseases, both short and long-term, are high with a single case of a DA costing producers around £439 per cow he said. This takes direct costs, such as increased herdsman time and veterinary bills, into account, as well as indirect costs associated with areas including reduced fertility and increased culling.

“It’s also important to consider the less obvious costs, which aren’t typically accounted for, such as the impact of a sick cow on feed waste and underutilisation. 100% of the feed can be wasted while a cow is in the sick pen and not producing milk, which can have a major impact on the bottom line.”

Mr Lord said focusing on nutrition during the dry period can reduce incidences of metabolic diseases — as well as their associated costs.

He added that the primary aim is to maintain body condition. A high-fibre, controlled energy diet with a crude protein content of between 13-14% is recommended.

"Ration consistency is key to ensuring that cows receive a stable and controlled intake of nutrients. And feeding a thoroughly mixed but not over-processed TMR, with an optimal chop length of between 4-6cm, is proven to reduce metabolic diseases.”

During the trial1, cases of retained placentas decreased by more than 50% – from 10.7% to 4.6% – and incidences of milk fever dropped from 9.9% to 2.5% in cows receiving Keenan’s MechFiber mix.

It is also important to ensure that the diet provides adequate levels of minerals and trace elements, which play a critical role in a host of body processes.

"Calcium status is vital, along with trace elements, including selenium, zinc and copper, which have an integral role in supporting immune function,” explained Mr Lord.

“When it comes to traces minerals, the form in which they’re supplied is key. For example, including organic forms such as Bioplex® and Sel-Plex® is preferable because they mimic nature’s own form. This means they’re more bioavailable to the cow and can be stored in the tissues, ready to be mobilised during times of increased need,” he adds.

“This is particularly important at times of physiological stress, such as calving, as the cow may have a sudden requirement for increased levels of minerals. If they are not available, cows can be more at risk of metabolic diseases.”