Mark and John Elliott

Posted by admin on Dec 12, 2014, 11:15 AM

Focus on Transition Cows to get Higher Production

Changing transition cow management has made a big difference to early lactation performance at one Devon herd.

Mark and John Elliott run a herd of 500 Holstein Friesian cows at Bradford Devon. The cows are housed in a purpose built shed under one roof and are milked through a rapid exit parlour. The milking herd is split into three groups, fresh, highs and lows, with the lows going out to graze in the summer. Calving all year round the average yield is 9,059 litres per cow. 

Recently Mark felt the cows were not quite where they should be in terms of yield and milk quality so he set about analysing the problem with Bruce Forshaw from Harpers Feeds. 

“When we analysed the Interherd plus data we identified that over the last few months the cows had been a couple of litres under their predicted yield,” Bruce comments.

”I have seen this before on other dairy units where cows are not transitioning as well as they could be for whatever reason. 

“These cows will stay below their predicted yield for 100 days or more which is a major concern. In addition to the hassle factor of cows with post calving issues there is the ongoing cost of unrealised milk yield which can be as much as 200 litres over the period, worth around £56 per cow. An initial look at the transition cows suggested that all appeared to be as it should, with the cow son a high fibre based diet. However, a closer inspection highlighted that at certain times cows were not on this diet for long enough due to the limited of space in the pre-calver yard and the number of cows calving at peak times. After much discussion between John Mark and Bruce it was decided that as it could not be guaranteed that the cows would be on the transition diet for the correct amount of time then it should not be used.

“If cows are on the transition diet for less than the minimum four weeks then there is a real risk of too many diet changes too quickly in succession and all this will do is put them under stress,” 

Bruce continues. “The cows will have a social grouping and diet change when they enter the pre-calver yard and then again when they calve which is too much”. 

The system has now been simplified and all pre-calvers are now kept on good hay and 2kg of Harpers pre-calver nuts. Bruce explains the hay keeps the rumen full and working hard while the Harpers pre-calver nuts supply the correct mineral balance and also have a similar ingredient make up to the concentrates fed post calving. There has been fewer post calving issues since this has been introduced. In addition, Mark had been mixing different rations for each group and it was decided to simplify this. Bruce formulated one ration for the fresh and high group to limit the amount of changes the cows have. All the rations fed are recorded automatically every day and the Feed Conversion Efficiency is monitored on a regular basis and a few days after any changes are implemented. 

“It is important to monitor the results when changes are made so that we can be sure that the desired effect is achieved. We have continued to track the actual yield against the predicted yield and the cows are now back on track. The feed conversion efficiency has also climbed from 1.2 litres per kgDM fed kilogram to 1.43 litres. Furthermore, milk quality has improved with a lift in butterfat from 3.97% to 4.27% while protein has risen from 3.02% to 3.32%. 

“It is easy to become attached to things that should work, or have worked in the past but which are no longer working,” 

Bruce concludes. “By measuring what is happening we can make changes where they are needed and confirm that those changes have resulted in improvements as is the case with the simplified transition management here.”

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