How important is a properly formulated ration for a transition period and lactation?
One of the key focuses in my consulting work is transition cows. Having cows come through calving and early lactation with a low incidence of metabolic disorders is the key to the remainder of the lactation and efficient reproduction. Developing a ration that allows for a successful transition period is a large day-to-day practice of mine.
What aspects of the ration are especially important for sound nutrition throughout the transition?
I have become a big believer in a high-fiber, low-energy approach to dry cow and prefresh diets. Developing rations with a lot of bulk ingredients—like grass hay, straw, corn silage and various supplemental grains—has become an area of focus. I work with my producer clients to produce or purchase grass hays or straw that are low in potassium. A key piece of the rations I formulate is getting potassium down to manageable levels in transition diets. In addition, mineral and metabolizable protein aspects of nutrition are also taken into consideration.
Tell us about your experience balancing DCAD in close-up rations. How long have you been implementing this practice and what benefits have you seen?
I have paid attention to dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) levels for a number of years. However, in the past three years I have focused more attention on lowering DCAD to negative levels. The DCAD levels of each ration I formulate are determined on a herd-by-herd basis. In instances where DCAD levels have been lowered to negative values herds have had very positive experiences, including increased fresh cow performance and dramatic reductions in the incidence of metabolic disorders.
Tell us about your experiences with BIO-CHLOR in prefresh diets. What benefits have you seen from feeding BIO-CHLOR?
BIO-CHLOR® Rumen Fermentation Enhancer has been a part of my ration formulation for a number of years, but the product has played a more prominent role when I started focusing more attention on reducing the use of anionic salts while lowering DCAD levels. As I work to lower ration DCAD levels, BIO-CHLOR has been easy to work with and makes changes to the anionic levels very rapidly. Also, BIO-CHLOR brings a fair amount of protein to the diet that benefits rumen function and microbial protein production. From a cost-benefit perspective, the product fits rations easily for a lot of the herds I work with. On another note, every ration is different due to forage availability and BIO-CHLOR offers a user-friendly approach to reaching optimal DCAD levels across varying forages.
What other nutritional or management tips have been especially important for your clients during the transition period?
The single, biggest management aspect I focus on with my clients is reducing overcrowding in the prefresh and fresh cow groups. By keeping stocking density below 90% cows are able to have greater access to the feedbunk whenever they want. Additionally, depending on herd size and facilities, we split two-year-old and mature cows during the transition period.
Is there any other advice you would like to offer dairy producers and nutritionists?
Through my experiences I have found that there is no “right” or “correct” transition program that is applicable across all herds. Transition programs need to be farm-specific and I work with my clients to determine how prefresh diets will look depending on the forages available. My clients are very accepting that cost needs to be watched, but at the same time investing in the transition period up front can yield lower incidence of metabolic disorders when cows freshen and, ultimately, drive a more productive and profitable lactation.