BEEF SUCKLER - Time for some pre-calving tips

17 Jan 2018

As we look ahead again to the calving season, it is essential to understand and as far as possible control the factors that impact on the health and performance of the cow. Nutrition, health and good management are clearly understood as the key elements driving fertility, with feeding also contributing significantly to calving ease and calf performance.

As a result of the wet weather this summer, NADIS issued a liver fluke warning, so it is important to be aware of animals below condition and discuss any concerns or issues with your animal health adviser.

The poor weather conditions during this harvest have also increased the risk of a high load of mycotoxins in the bedding/feeding. Some mycotoxins may impair immunity and fertility, as well as contributing to other health issues including digestive and metabolic disorders. Harbro’s Mycosorb A+, a next generation binder can manage the impact of and control mycotoxins.

On the management side, separating heifers, lean cows and second calving cows from the main herd is a strategy that must be applied, particularly if the main herd ration is set for maintenance.

Heifers need some special attention due to a 20% lower intake yet higher energy and protein requirements.

Second calving and lean cows can then be grouped with the heifers to ensure they will receive the appropriate amount and quality of nutrients necessary for calf growth and body condition management.

Body condition score- a key management tool:

The spring calving cows should be in a BCS of 2.5 at calving.

To achieve this, the cows must be evaluated and scored at weaning.

Cows at BCS 2.5 can’t afford to lose condition, so a diet of 7kg - 8kg dry matter of silage (typically 25kg fresh) and 2kg to 3kg dry matter of straw (or 3.5kg fresh) should be enough, assuming that silage is average in energy and protein.

BCS below 2.5 will need a boost in the diet to gain some weight for calving, which can be a challenge as this year’s silage is low in energy and protein. In these particular cases, barley can be added to the diet.

Farmers should aim to achieve an optimum BCS and calving weight 50 days before calving. Any diet changes 30 days prior to calving will affect the calf more than the cow. If there is too much energy and protein in the diet there can be a risk of calving difficulties due to big calves, so it is important to get the ration right.

Within the last month of pregnancy, the focus should be on calf vitality and calving ease. A difficult calving is more likely to produce a lethargic calf, as well as a cow slow to come onto milk and, subsequently difficult to get into calf again. Providing fish oils, vitamin E, Sel-Plex and iodine in the last month before calving has
proven to give significant benefits in getting calves up and going just after birth. Fish oils provide omega 3 fats, known to boost foetal brain development whilst selenium and iodine are key to triggering the initial energy metabolism of the new-born calf. The combination helps to get the calf up and suckling quicker and
taking in the best quality colostrum. Omega 3, iodine and selenium also have a positive effect on fertility, alongside vitamin E, zinc and copper. A word of caution on iodine - an excess can seriously compromise the absorption of immunoglobulins from colostrum, leading to a weaker immune response in the calf, therefore it is always advisable to check your current iodine status.

Harbro Super Suckler range has been formulated using all of these ingredients and is recommended at 130g/head/day to 150g/head/day rate before calving and over the bulling period.

Post-calving, the focus turns again to fertility. A good protein source is important to ensure adequate quantity and quality of colostrum from the suckler cows. The diet needs to remain well balanced at this time, as allowing too much condition to come off the heifers and cows at calving can seriously impinge on calving ease, quality and quantity of colostrum and subsequent fertility.

On a final note, and in planning for the next service, it is crucial to make sure the bulls are ready to work. Check that their feet are in good condition and that they are dosed according to the advised animal health plan. Fertility testing is important to check semen quality whilst feed and bedding should also be closely monitored to ensure they are free of mould as certain mycotoxins can damage the semen in otherwise fertile bulls. Harbro Bull Fertility fed at 500g/head/day will ensure stock bulls are ready for the breeding season ahead.


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