Franklin Vets Blog

Feeding Calving Cows

April 5, 2021

Autumn calving cows have an easy ride in some ways, sun, warmth, firm footing, less mud, and less mastitis. Sounds so good, until we consider the elephant in the room – low pasture availability and low pasture quality.autumn calvers grazing

In place of good quality spring pasture, autumn calving systems rely on bulk supplies of various forage silages, breaks of 4kg to 8kg (if you are lucky) dry summer pasture and topping up with a variety of other supplements that vary between operator depending on their particular taste. Maize silage is good, and other forage is good. Dry summer pasture is not so good. Other supplements can be very good or not so good depending on what they are.

Even with good silages, however, the amount of energy getting into autumn calving cows when compared to that available to spring calving cows is substantially lower for the same amount of dry matter.

For example, cows in April fed 19kgDM/c/d as 5kg leafy summer pasture, 7kg maize and 7kg pasture silage will have enough energy onboard to produce 1.5kgMS while they are losing a small amount of BCS following calving. While probably short on protein, they will be eating to capacity and be round in the gut. Offer them anymore and they will turn away. They could indeed be fully fed and underperforming.

Compare this to a cow in August fed 19kgDM/c/d as 15kg pasture, 2kg maize and 2kg pasture silage. Our spring cow will have enough energy onboard to produce 1.9kgMS while losing a small amount of BCS following calving. She will have plenty of protein, have more room to eat and often will look like it.

The point is that our autumn calvers are asked to hit the ground running at a time when pasture and forage available may not be up to the job. It is as though we are asking a race car to win on Super V8 race day while running on unleaded regular 91 octane petrol.

Because of this, getting the diet of autumn calving cows to the point where they can perform highly, requires more involvement with understanding the feeds you are using. Concentrate feeds have a large place in the autumn calving cow and if used correctly, can be profitable. Most are familiar with the use of PKE to compliment a forage-based diet, but in the autumn, this may not be the most appropriate option to get autumn cows firing. In a lot of situations, “high-protein” supplements are suitable additions, but not all. “High-starch” diets are becoming more popular, but what else do we need to provide? If we are not providing a large amount of pasture, what does that mean for mineral requirements and risk of metabolic disease or poor performance?

Understanding your feed is critical to getting autumn cows to perform. Testing silages for DM, energy and mineral content becomes essential to getting it right. Once you know what you have, you can supply what you need. Franklin Vets can assist and provide independent advice on what you need to get those autumn cows performing.

Dr David Hawkins BVSc