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Getting Cows Off To A
Good Start In Lactation
Most dairy producers want their
cows to peak well, have good per
sistency of production, and breed
back well. Getting cows off to a
good start in their next lactation
requires attention to several areas
of management: the heifer pro
gram, late lactation cows, the dry
cow group, close-up cows and
cows in early lactation.
Heifers should-calve at around
22 to 24 months of age at a weight
of about 1300 pounds before calv
ing. That means they need to gain
an average of 1.7 to 1.8 pounds
per day. Heifers that make most of
their growth before calving gener
ally have fewer calving problems,
produce better in their first lacta
tion, and gain flesh back more ra
Avoid getting calves and heif
ers too fat; feed them for growth.
Getting heifers too fat before
breeding age can impair udder de
velopment and conception rates.
Fat heifers also are more sluggish
at calving lime triggering a higher
incidence of difficult births plus
all the problems associated with
Pushing heifers for rapid
growth on rations that are too rich
in energy and improperly balanc
ed can cause foundering at a very
young age, a problem which can
become real pronounced early in
their first lactation.
Late Lactation Cows
Cows should be dried off at a
body score of about 3.5. This can
be accomplished by regulating ra
tions in late lactation, but give
yourself ample time to get the job
done. Remember, one body condi
tion score is equivalent to about
125 pounds, or about 10% of a
cow’s body weight. If a cow needs
to improve her flesh by 1 body
score, and if you can get her to
gain 2 pounds per day while she is
still trying to produce milk, you’ll
need at least 2 months to get the
job done. You may want to body
score your cows about 3 weeks be
fore dry off to get an idea of what
adjustments in feeding and group
ing are necessary.
Late lactation is also a good
time to culture and treat cows to
determine types of infections and
to reduce udder infections before
dry-off time. Both of these prac
tices can help make a dry treat
ment program more effective.
The Dry Group
These cows should be grouped
separately so they can be properly
managed. You may also want to
include heifers in this group so
they can receive similar care.
Give cows an adequate dry per
iod so they have time to repair and
rebuild udder tissue. This requires
about 60 days for heifers and high
producing cows, and 50-55 days
for other cows.
Dry treat all quarters of all
Aim to dry cows off at a uni
form body score of about 3.5. Re
member, a group of dry cows with
Glenn A. Shirk
similar body scores is much easier
to manage properly, than a group
of cows that vary in flesh condi
tion. Maintain this level of flesh
up to calving time. Don’t try to
take weight off fat cows during the
dry period; it forces them to dip
into their body’s reserve supply of
nutrients, which is the last thing
we want to do as we approach the
stressful times of calving and ear
Feed dry cows a specially-pre
pared dry-cow ration. They need
it! Their needs are quite different
from those of lactating cows.
Some things to focus on are vita
min and mineral levels. In addi
tion to selenium, vitamin E, cal
cium and phosphorus, also be con
cerned about potassium and
magnesium. Many of our feeds,
grown on well-manured and well
fertilized fields are high in potas
sium levels. Because of this, you
may want to purchase grass hay
grown under different conditions,
or consider feeding, and anionic
mineral mix to cows in the close
up group. Many of the fresh cow
problems dairymen observe could
be related to high levels of potash
in feeds grown on heavily manur
ed and heavily fields. It’s some
thing to discuss with your nutri
Feed dry cows bulky, long
stemmed forages that stimulate
good rumen function, and the de
velopment of a more capacious ru
men. This will help to heal the gut
lining and encourage greater dry
matter intakes soon after calving.
The dry period is also a good
time to let cows get off concrete
and let them get more exercise.
It’s also a good time to trim feet
and to boost cows’ immune status.
Vaccination programs can vary,
and you may want to consult your
veterinarian for advice.
Close-Up Cows And
About 3 weeks before calving,
start increasing grain feeding rates
gradually to a maximum of about
0.7% of body weight (about 8 lbs.
for larger Weeds). This encour
ages the growth and development
of papillae on the gut wall. The
greater the papillae development
the more nutrients a cow can ab
sorb, which is very crucial at calv
ing time and in early lactation.
The gut needs to be ready to ab
sorb nutrients efficiently at calv
ing time, not at 2-3 weeks after
KEEP COWS ON FEED! This
is so important! One day off feed,
either before or after calving, can
cause cows to mobilize a lot of
body fat rapidly, which can result
in fatty livers. Cows with fatty liv
ers are more apt to become keto
tic, go off feed, get twisted sto
machs, and they are more sus
ceptible to infections because of a
suppressed immune system. As
feed intakes drop, think of ways
you can increase the nutrient den
sity of the ration. This might be
accomplished by top dressing the
dry-cow ration with special sup
plements, by feeding them a few
pounds of the high-group TMR or
concentrate mix, etc. Again, this is
something to discuss with your
Remember all those “dumb”
heifers that don’t adapt to stalls,
herdmates, and work routines af
ter calving? Besides being a teal
nuisance, these heifers also ate
more apt to have more hock and
leg ailments. The dry period is a
good time to help them adjust to
their milking herdmates, to dairy
workers, to changes in the feeding
program, to concrete, to new fa
cilities and surroundings, etc. Get
them acclimated before calving,
so they don’t have to make them at
a time when we expect them to
maximize feed intake and milk
production. Remember, one way
to reduce cows feed intake and dry
them off is to change their feed,
put them in a new stall or in a pen
with a different group of cows,
change their daily routine, etc. Are
we doing these same things to
heifers when we bring them into
the milking string for their first
Provide cows and heifers with a
clean, dry, sanitary maternity area,
so they have a belter chance of
starting their lactation free from
the additional stress of udder and
uterine infections. Cows with in
fections don’t feel well, don’t eat
well, and consequently do not get
off to as good a start Observe
cows closely, and act fast to pre
vent little problems from turning
into larger, costlier problems.
After calving, the big challenge
again is to KEEP COWS ON
FEED, doing whatever it takes to
stimulate their appetites. Consider
feeding some buffers, niacin,
yeast, etc. Keep feeds fresh and
palatable. Feed frequently or push
feeds up frequently. Keep bunks
and waterers clean and provide at
least 2 feet of bunk space per cow.
Creating a separate group for
first-calf heifers can be very bene
ficial, not because they need a dif
ferent ration, but because of their
inability to adjust socially.
Weigh the amount of feeds fed
and the amount refused to accur
ately determine the amount actual
ly consumed. Equally important,
test moisture content of feeds re
gularly. Then reformulate the ra
tion and adjust feeding rates ac
As soon as cows are on feed,
start increasing grain feeding rates
gradually, being sure to observe
intakes and being careful not to
throw cows off feed.
As you feed more grain, and
perhaps some fat too, be sure cows
are consuming their forages and
getting a sufficient amount of ef
fective fiber to maintain good cud
chewing activity, good saliva pro
duction, good rumen function and
good rumen health. At least
40-45% of the total dry matter in
take should come from forage
more if grain is fed separate from
forages, if feeding finely-chopped
forages, or if silages are high in
moisture. Neutral detergent fiber
intake from forages should be
about 0.95% of body weight.
Feed early lactation cows high
quality feeds. Feed no more than
about 6-8 lbs. of grain at any one
feeding, and try to offer cows
some forage before feeding grain.
Over the years, we’ve been
taught to feed cows according to
milk production. With high pro
ducing cows it may be more ap
propriate to formulate rations on
the basis of a certain level of milk
production, but then feed cows ac
cording to their flesh condition.
This means feeding cows all the
feed they want to eat and then en
ticing them to eat a little more in
order to maximize dry matter in
takes, to minimize the loss of flesh
and to encourage rapid recovery
Of flesh. If we do this, production
will automatically follow. Once
cows ate back to proper flesh,
feeding rates can be brought back
in line with production.
As you can see, a lot of things
Co.) The Ephrata Area Young
Farmers Association (EAYFA) is
sponsoring a political debate of
five candidates for the seat of state
representative of the 99lfa District,
set for 7:30 p.m., April S, at the
Foxchase Golf Club, in Stevens.
According to a news release,
five candidates four registered
Republican and one Democrat
are seeking the seat that is being
vacated by incumbent Rep. Terry
Scheetz, who announced he will
I THOMAS^ JURCHAK
| ' Lackawanna County
If you’re looking for something to cheer you up during a record snow
fall, here it is the Minnesota-Wisconsin Price Series hit an 11-year
high of $12.41 for February.
That wasn ’ t any better than last month but it was $ 1.67 better than last
This may very well mean that, for the next three or four months, the
trend will be higher rather than lower, as expected for this time of the
It appears that milk production has peaked in die Southeast, is still
going up in the West, and is lower in the Midwest and Northeast.
This means a continuing trend of what we have seen the last seven
months and one that may not change until we grow new forage particu
larly in the north central states.
Winter weather is still taking its toll on milk production, but feed
supply and quality may be even more limiting.
Lower milk production, or the threat of continued lower production,
is moving up dairy product prices counter-seasonally.
Cheese prices had the largest weekly increase last Friday, since
In the last four weeks, block prices are up nearly 3 cents and barrels
are up nearly 4 cents.
And it isn’t only cheese. Butter prices that haven’t seen an increase in
months were up 3 cents. Powder markets are “steady to firm” with small
but steady increases.
So, what’s so great about an 11-year high in the M-W price?
Isn’t everything priced higher than it was 11 years ago? But milk pric
ing is different than many other things including other farm products.
So, how come we go back 11 years? Why not five or 15 or 20 years?
That’s where the history lesson starts.
It was back in 1983 that the M-W was $12.59 in February and those
with good memories, or records, will remember the early 1980’s as the
years of the highest support prices.
The support price then was $12.80 but even with government help,
the M-W only made $12.59 in February.
Those were the days when dairy support prices were linked to the
Index of Prices Paid and adjustments were made every six months.
That finally ended when the support price went from $10.51 to
$12.80, so Congress stopped all further increases and President Reagan
signed the bill in his hospital room after an attempted assassination.
By 1983, Commodity Credit Corporation purchases were nearly 17
billion pounds of milk equivalent, or 12 percent of total milk
A lot of changes have taken place in dairy price support legislation
since then, including some attempts at voluntary supply management.
Nothing seemed to work for long and now we’re at the other extreme
of support prices.
In February 1983, the support price was $12.80 and the M-W $12.59,
or 21 cents lower.
In February 1994, the support price is $lO and the M-W is $12.41, or
Now CCC purchases for 1994 are estimated at five billion pounds or
about three percent of total milk production.
We’ve come full circle from government prices to market prices. You
may have ended up at the same price, but this time no one can pass a bill
to take it away from you.
affect a cow’s lactation curve.
Getting cowsoff to a good start re
quires a lot of attention to details
and timely action.
Penn Starte is an affirmative ac
tion, equal opportunity university.
not seek reelection.
The debate is to be held in the
Palmer Room of the golf club, and
is open to the public at not cost'
The candidates scheduled to
debate include R.H. Bob' Bienne
man, R-Brownstown; A. Anthony
Kilkuskie, R-Ephrata; James Riss
er, R-Ephrata; Leroy Zimmerman,
R-East Earl; L. Quintin Eiseman,
For more information, call
Karen Becker at (717) 859-3276.
Eleven Year High
Government Prices Or