Dairy producers should pay close attention to nutritional requirements during peak lactation to avoid losses in body condition score (BCS) of more than 0.5, which could significantly knock fertility.

“Many areas of performance are improving in UK dairy herds, however fertility continues to be an issue and according to industry figures, could be costing the average herd as much as 3.5p per litre," argued Dr Helen Warren, European technical manager for ruminants at Alltech.

“While there are many potential causes for this, inadequate nutrition, in particular energy supply, is known to be a major contributor of reduced fertility. In early lactation, a cow’s energy requirement increases substantially and demand is higher than feed intake can support," she pointed out.

"This causes a negative energy balance, with the cow being forced to mobilise body reserves to maintain production, resulting in loss of body condition.

“While cows can withstand a small degree of BCS loss during early lactation, if there’s excessive negative energy balance and cows lose more than 0.5 of body condition score, this can cause delay in the return of normal oestrus cycling and lower conception rates.”

If cows aren’t meeting a target BCS of 3.5 at calving down, this can exacerbate the problem, adds Dr Warren. Cows with a BCS above 3.5 tend to have reduced appetites, resulting in increased body fat mobilisation leading to increased risks of fatty liver syndrome and ketosis.

“Producers should be aiming to calve cows down at BCS 3.5 and no more than 0.5 of a condition score should be lost during early lactation. Post calving, nutritional management should focus on maximising feed intake and balancing energy and protein supply, while also remembering to ensure sufficient levels, and optimal form, of minerals,” advised Dr Warren.

She said that optimising rumen function is important during this period and that the addition of a live yeast, such as Yea-Sacc, can stabilise the rumen by reducing pH. “This can increase diet efficiency by up to 6% and Yea-Sacc can help minimise negative energy balance and thus BCS loss, avoiding knock-on effects on cow fertility.”