Oct 06, 2020
Paying attention to transition diets is vital to increase productivity
Oct 06, 2020
Article as seen in Farmers Guardian 2nd October 2020
Paying attention to transition cow nutrition has huge benefits for calving success and the cow’s ability to bounce back after calving.
Csaba Adamik of Lallemand Animal Nutrition explains, for a dairy cow, the transition period is one of the most challenging times they face, as they deal with tremendous physiological, hormonal and dietary changes.
“The transition period in dairy cows spans the time three weeks pre-calving and three to four weeks post-calving,” he says.
Mr Adamik explains the major challenges during the transition period can be broken down into three categories: transition from a forage-rich diet to a lactating diet; negative energy balance, as the cow nutritional requirements rise while there is a drop in feed intake; finally, an increased oxidative stress which can translate into lower immunity and higher disease occurrence.
“In particular, the transition from a forage rich diet to a high concentrate milking ration represents challenges for the cow’s digestive system. In the rumen, passage rate is increased, microbiota and fermentation profiles, rumen pH are all altered, and in turn the rumen wall is also affected,” he says.
“One of the most important of these is the changes made to the rumen microbiota populations because of how they benefit digestion and rumen function.
“These microbiota populations are significantly impacted in the transition period due to the sudden shift in diet. Most importantly, the Fibrolytic populations, which belong to a functional family that can degrade carbohydrates, are particularly sensitive to low pH environments.
“This means that their numbers decrease after a shift to high energy diets, such as in transition cows. The effect of Fibrolytic populations decreasing could mean that cows are less able to digest and absorb nutrients.”
With all this in mind, Mr Adamik explains that transition diets need to specifically tailored to suit the nutritional requirements of the cow.
“If these diets are managed properly, producers will be rewarded with, high yields, reduced risk of metabolic disorders, better fertility and improved longevity of cows within the herd.”
How to spot if you have a problem?
Mr Adamik says there are a number of simple observations during the transition period which can help indicate issues with rumen function.
“Body condition scoring (BCS) is one of the easiest indicators of transition challenges,” he says. “The aim is to have cows at a BCS of 3 – 3.25 at drying off, maintaining this throughout the transition period. Carry out weekly scoring to ensure cows are maintaining and not gaining or losing weight,” says Mr Adamik.
“Monitoring and scoring rumen fill is also an important tool of a successful transition system. Aiming for a rumen fill score of 4 during the dry period will ensure adequate dry matter intake (DMI) pre-calving and help to maximise DMI post-calving.”
How to manage transition cows through nutrition
If issues are seen with rumen fill and BCS, there are several management practices which can be looked at to help improve cow performance and increase her ability to bounce back post-partum.
“In terms of physical herd management, try to reduce unnecessary stress by limiting pen moves that might cause social stress,” says Mr Adamik.
“Also ensure there is adequate feed barrier space to help maximise DMI and reduce competition between cows. Provide 1m per cow feed space during the dry period and at least 75cm per cow in the fresh group.”
In terms of nutritional management, Mr Adamik highlights that close-up and fresh cow diets and feed intake need to be monitored closely to ensure optimum performance.
“Amending the ration during these phases will aid rumen adaptation, limiting the risk of acidosis by increasing nutrient digestibility and absorption through the rumen wall, as well as preventing metabolic disorders such as ketosis.”
Including yeast in the diet
Along with ensuring diets are balanced and meet the requirements of the cow throughout the transition period, research has also shown benefits to rumen function when live yeasts are included in transition diets.
“Rumen specific live yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM I-1077) helps to stabilise rumen pH and stimulate the growth of beneficial microflora, which can improve fibre digestion and feed utilisation,” says Mr Adamik.
“This can be especially useful when transitioning from a high fibre dry cow diet to a high concentrate early lactation diet as it can help prepare the rumen microbiota for this substantial dietary change,” he notes.
“It has also been found that adding live yeast to the diet can increase the average rumen pH by up to 0.5 units, reducing the risk of acidosis.”
Mr Adamik adds that the negative effects on the rumen itself can also be mitigated by the inclusion of a specific live yeast.
“A study carried out in 2018 found that when a specific live yeast was fed prior to calving, the rumen wall was better prepared, increasing its integrity and reducing inflammation caused by stress around calving.
“The transition period is highly challenging for the dairy cow, and by paying attention to management and nutrition, cows will be more productive both in the short and long term,” concludes Mr Adamik.
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