DAIRY - Cowman's Tips - Autumn 2017

9 Oct 2017

Harbro Dairy Specialist, David McCarragher looks at planning ahead for the change in season. 

With winter not far around the corner, it is time to start thinking about the change in season and about the forage required to complement rations. The following aims to give you a few practical steps to help you understand what your cows are telling you.

Spending just 30 minutes every day assessing your cows can tell you a lot about how they are performing. 

Manure consistency, cudding rates and behavioural activity can open your thought process to how you can get even more milk from your cows by adjusting something simple that does not involve spending money. Think, look and act can help you understand the environment the cow is housed in either all year round or just for the winter months.

Assessing Rumen Fill

Rumen fill, is scored on a basis of 1.0-5.0, 1.0 = empty and 5.0 = full. Daily inspections of rumen fill give the manager a snap shot of the rumen and an impression of the current situation on farm. Ideal rumen score differs from dry cows and lactating cows.
• Lactating cows should be 3.0 to 4.0
• Dry cows 4.0 to 5.0

Interpreting the results

• Animals that score low could have problems with lameness or there may not be enough room at the feeding
• Fresh cows with poor rumen fill could be suffering from sub clinical ketosis.
• If there is a lot of variation in the group, asses the ration and availability of feed to cows.

Manure consistency gives us a definitive verdict on how the ration has been digested. It’s important to evaluate manure in relation to feedstuffs and feed efficiency.

What to look for when assessing

• Rate of passage. Thin manure and a lot of longer particles indicate too rapid passage. Thick manure with mucus indicates slow passage.
• Degree of digestion. The number of long fibres and identifiable feedstuffs indicate the rate of digestion.• Variation between cows and between different days, for ideal rumen function the ration should vary as little as possible.
• Colour. Depends on feedstuffs. Light coloured manure often indicates low protein in the feed.
• Smell. Well digested manure is virtually odourless. Ammonia is only produced after mixing with urine.

Cudding rates

Watching cows’ cudding gives us as farmers and feed advisors some neat information regarding the ration and rumen health.
• When cows are resting, 80-85% of animals should be cudding at one given time when lying down.
• Looking out for cud balls at the front of cubicles. This can indicate sharp objects in silage and poor palatability of the ration.
• Cows should chew more than 50 times when cudding to represent a wellbalanced and healthy diet.

Locomotion scoring cows

• Score 3 indicates the cow may be lame due to less weight bearing on one leg, shortened strides and an arched back. The benefits of the locomotion scoring system include:
• The ability to prioritise cases for treatment.
• Any poor mobility trends can be monitored and the causes identified.
• The provision of figures for benchmarking performance.
• Proactive approach focusing on prevention first.
• An increase in the awareness of herd foot health and farm staff motivation to improve herd mobility.

Palatable water and feed supply

Feed that is presented to the cows should be well mixed to reduce the chances of cows sorting. A good water supply should also be available throughout the day.
• Reducing sorting creates a healthier rumen environment.
• Reduction of sub clinical acidosis occurring.
• Clean drinker at least once a week to remove biofilm (slimy layer), to reduce the chance of infection.
• Rapid flowing drinker should be able to dispense 15-20 litres per minute.
• Did you know it takes 6.4litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk?

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