In New Zealand, every dairy farmer worth their salt knows just how important it is to look after the welfare of their animals. The health of the herd directly impacts profit margins, which, in turn, determines the viability and sustainability of the farm.
Farmers who ignore the feed and nutrition management of their herd do so at their peril. Beyond the severe legal penalties awaiting those who choose to neglect the welfare of animals under their care, there is also a substantial opportunity cost to be missed should farmers not get the most milk production out of their herd, as underweight cows almost always result in poorer dairy yields and lower fertility rates.
By closely monitoring the nutrition levels in feed, farmers can start to take the guesswork out of milk solid production and animal health issues – but it doesn’t start and end at the food supply.
A comprehensive approach to nutrition management should consider the many factors that play into the wellbeing of a dairy cow – from pasture management, to supplementation and water supply, to the availability of feed pads and shelter – there is a lot that can be done to increase the productivity and welfare of working cows, safeguarding the sustainability of the farm by providing healthy profit margins in the process.
Read on for some great tips to help improve the feed and nutrition of your dairy farm.
Tips to help improve pasture management practices
Pasture management is a key part of a comprehensive approach that ensures dairy cattle are supplied with the right amount of nutrition to meet their needs. While it is a very broad subject in itself, good pasture management has six key points to follow, as highlighted below:
The implementation of a rotational grazing system allows for optimal utilisation of the pasture, allowing forage to recuperate and grow back in time. This ensures that cows have access to fresh, high-quality forage, while reducing the risk of overgrazing.
By maintaining the soil fertility of pastures through regular soil testing and applying the appropriate fertilisers, cows are supplied with nutritious grasses for foraging.
Weeds reduce the quality of pasture and compete with desirable forage, such as grasses. Implementing an effective weed control program (such as herbicide application or mechanical weed removal) helps to maintain the quality of the pasture.
A timeless farming technique practised since 6,000 BC, irrigation provides a steady flow of adequate water throughout fields, allowing pastures to reach their potential, thereby providing nutritious forage for cows. Irrigation is especially important during dry spells.
As a subset of rotational grazing, the idea of giving pastures adequate rest periods for pasture regrowth is crucial to maintaining a sustainable grazing system. Rest periods should be long enough to allow for adequate regrowth, but not too long that the pasture becomes too mature, and therefore less nutritious.
Monitoring and consultation
By regularly monitoring pasture quality, quantity, and cow performance through Body Condition Scores, farmers can make informed decisions about pasture management and feeding strategies, removing the need for guesswork. Consultation with a veterinarian or qualified dairy cattle nutritionist may also be appropriate for farmers to determine the best nutrition program for their herd’s needs.
How feeding pads help to ward against heat stress
A feeding pad is a hard-surfaced area designed for feeding and managing dairy cows. Covered feed pad barns, such as those supplied by SmartShelters, help to prevent against the negative effects of heat stress by keeping the sun off of cows while feeding and keeping their body temperatures cool and regulated.
There are several other ways in which a feed pad improves the nutrition management of dairy cows:
Reducing pasture damage
Cows that are continuously fed on pasture may overgraze and damage the pasture, which is especially true in fields that are harder to monitor (either for access, distance, or other geographic reasons). Using a feeding pad can help reduce pasture damage and allow for optimal pasture utilisation.
Consistent feed supply
Allowing cows to eat at a set feeding pad helps to ensure that all animals have access to the same amount and quality of feed. This can improve their nutrition and overall health through consistent supply of feed and makes it easier to manage the herd.
Feed wastage reduction
An often overlooked benefit to feeding pads is that they help to reduce feed wastage by preventing feed from being trampled or contaminated by manure, which can lead to significant (and costly) nutrient losses.
Feeding pads provide a controlled environment for feeding, enabling easy monitoring of feed intake and cow behaviour. This can help farmers’ lives easier in that they can then make informed decisions about nutrition management, feed intake, observe individual cows for ailments, and easily monitor the overall health of the herd.
Click here to learn more about SmartShelters feed pads.
The impact of supplementation and water supply on the nutrition of dairy cows
Supplementation and water supply are crucial components of nutrition management for dairy cows, helping to ensure that dairy cows receive the proper nutrients and hydration they need for optimal health and milk production.
By providing a balanced diet that meets the cow’s nutritional needs, farmers can improve the health of their herd, and, in turn, increase the efficiency and profitability of their dairy farm operation.
Supplementation refers to the method of providing dairy cows with supplemental feed in addition to pasture grazing in order to meet their nutritional needs. Cows that rely solely on pasture for their nutrition may not receive all the nutrients required to maintain good health and high quality and quantity milk production. Supplementation with concentrates, hay, or silage can provide additional nutrients, such as protein and energy, that may be lacking in the pasture – which is dependent on pasture quality as mentioned above.
Supplementation can also help balance the cow’s diet and reduce the risk of metabolic disorders and associated health issues. Supplemental feeds should be chosen carefully based on the farm’s environmental situation (which takes into account the pasture quality and forage quantity available), the cows’ needs, stage of lactation, and Body Condition Scores.
Hydration by way of adequate water supply is crucial for overall cow health, milk production, digestion, and regulation of body temperature. The adverse effects of dehydration can have a severe impact on the health and milk production of dairy cows. This typically will lead to reduced feed intake, lower milk production, and a host of otherwise avoidable health problems. Clean, fresh drinking water should always be supplied to ensure working dairy cows remain hydrated, healthy, and productive at all times.
Take steps to improving the health of your herd today
By adopting some of these techniques and creating a comprehensive approach to feeding and nutrition management, farmers can optimise the health of their cows, increase the outputs of their herd’s milk production, and improve the overall profitability of their dairy farm operation.
At SmartShelters, we provide a range of high quality, built-to-last farm shelters for dairy cattle. Our team of dedicated agricultural industry experts are on hand to assist you with our extensive range of quality feed barns and shelters.
Contact us today.