Post-calving is a key time for the spring cow to gain condition, milk well for her calf and be ready for the bull, so she needs to be in good energy balance.

In well-managed grazing systems and some early grass growing areas, this may not be an issue, however many areas have later growth or have had sheep over-wintering for a bit too long. Even if the weather is good for turnout, it is important to ensure there is enough grass cover to meet cows’ nutritional requirements.

How much is enough?

• A suckler cow lactating needs approximately 135MJ of energy which is around 60kg of good quality grass. This is an intake of around 12kg of dry matter (DM).

• Using a sward stick to measure a representative area across the field. In a set stocked system spring grass should be at least 6cm (around 2000kgDM/Ha).

• Think about how many cattle there are per hectare (daily demand) and what the growth of the grass is likely to be each day (daily supply) to ensure cattle are getting what they need.

For example:

Grass in April may only be growing at 10-16kg/ha/day and by May it could be up to 60-70kg/ha/day. So, in April, 1ha would meet the needs of one cow, while in May it will meet the needs of six cows!

Especially this year, when input costs are high, making optimum use grass by stocking correctly for the growth and conditions will really help towards keeping a good supply of grass throughout the summer.

Turnout – nutrition checks:

• Grass height, minimum 6cm in the spring. Manage stocking rates according to growth and supplement if needed.

• Rumen fill – the triangle area between spine, hip and rib cage on the left hand side of the cow gives a good indication of rumen fill, if this area is sunken and an obvious triangle then the cows are not eating enough, check middle of the day after grazing, first thing in the morning it will be emptier.

• Coat changes, are they looking sleek and losing winter hair – indication of thriving.

• Condition changes (over a few weeks).

• Are they knocking you over for feed or not fussed? Lush spring grass is very appetising, if there is enough, they will not be fussed about additional feed.

If grass growth slows right up with dry or cold weather cows may only be getting half of their needs from grass. In these situations, the cows prioritise milk, they lose weight themselves and their return to oestrus is delayed.

As part of a Knowledge Transfer Innovation Fund (KTIF) project involving 12 suckler farms in Angus and Fife, we looked at the nutritional status of suckler cows one-month post-calving through metabolic blood profiling.

Most of the cows in the project were housed in this period and results showed that 37% of cows were low in dietary protein and 20% of cows were mobilising body fat at an excessive rate, so were in negative energy balance.

Minerals and trace elements were all well supplied, except magnesium where over a quarter of cows were low. Energy balance is vital and the longer cows are struggling for energy, the longer they will take to get back in calf.

Well-managed grass is the key to success. However, good weather will tempt turnout even when grass growth is not ideal.

The message is simple – if in doubt feed them. Iit may cost you more in the short term, but it will cost you more if you don’t, in the long term.