With one in four cows that leave the herd doing so during the first 60 days of lactation, dairy farmers must pay closer attention to detail during the dry and transition period to ensure cows are optimally prepared for calving and subsequent lactation. This was the key message from Professor Jud Heinrichs, who spoke on behalf of Alltech at UK Dairy Day.

He said that many producers focus their attention on the milking herd, but stressed the success of lactation depends on good dry cow and transition management.

“Not only will poor dry cow and transition management increase the risk of common health problems such as ketosis, milk fever and displaced abomasum, it significantly effects milk yield. Cows are often unable to reach their full potential, particularly during the first 100 days of lactation, which is when 50 per cent of total milk is produced,” said Professor Heinrichs.

Explaining the key elements of a successful programme, he said it requires a combination of both cow management and nutrition.

“It’s vital to ensure that cows are comfortable in the lead up to calving. Stocking density can have a big effect on milk yield and overcrowding has been shown to increase the risk of metabolic disorders post calving.

“During the close-up period, producers should be aiming for a stocking density of 80% in mixed groupings. For every 10 per cent above an 80 per cent stocking density, you could expect a reduction in milk yield of around 1.6lb per cow per day.” .

He adds that providing adequate trough space is also essential and producers should consider an extra 20 per cent of trough space for dry cows.

Outlining a nutritional strategy for the dry cow and transition period, Professor Heinrichs recommended a controlled energy, high fibre diet, that has close composition to the lactation ration.

“Provision of a high fibre diet can help stabilise dry matter intake, increase rumen fill, avoid cows becoming too fat which may predispose them to ketosis, and help adaption to the lactation ration.”

However, he emphasised that quality and delivery of the diet is key, to ensure a stable and controlled intake of nutrients. To achieve this, he advised feeding a consistent, good quality forage source, that doesn’t pose a mycotoxin risk, and consideration to chop length.

“A finely chopped diet results in reduced chewing activity, lower rumen fill and decreased rumen motility. I would recommend a moderate chop length and thorough mixing of the ration to prevent sorting.”