Feed your dairy cow well to get a healthy calf

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Animal nutritionists say that when you are feeding a pregnant dairy cow, you are feeding two animals (the cow and the developing calf in its uterus). What this simply means is that when a cow is incalf (pregnant) it needs adequate and balanced feed that is enough to meet her body maintenance and also that of the calf inside her.

A calf’s development (growth and performance) before and after birth depends on how its mother is fed during pregnancy. The feeding of the dam (mother cow) during pregnancy is therefore critical and determines the health and productivityof the calf later in life.

A cow’s nutrient requirements are based on three factors and these are maintenance, milk production and reproduction (foetus – unborn calf growth), but as the unborn calf grows, the nutrient requirement of the mother increases. While the energy and protein requirements of incalf heifer (young cow) are generally higher than those that have calved down more than once, additional feed supplementation, especially feed with a higher level of proteins plays an important role in proper growth of the unborn calves and a young growing in calf and lactating heifer. For an incalf dairy cow, the daily energy and protein requirements should include the nutrients for the unborn calf. The rule of thumb is that such a cow should be offered extra nutrients similar to cow producing 10 kg of milk. The extra nutrients would carter for the requirements of the unborn calf.

Protein and energy needs

But the question is; how much energy and protein does a pregnant dairy cow require? Many animal nutritionists find this a very difficult question to answer because different breeds of animals have different nutritional needs based on their different weight and digestion efficiency.

At the same time, different types of feeds have different nutrient levels. The best method that farmers are advised to use is simply to ensure that their pregnant dairy cows are provided with enough feed that is balanced. To ensure that the requirement of the cow is met, farmers should consult animal nutritionist to design feed rations that meet the nutritional needs of the animal.

Feed that has adequate energy for maintenance (e.g. energy sources include grass hay, Napier grass, crop residue etc), which are supplemented with equally balanced sources of proteins (e.g. calliandra, Sesbania Sesban, lucerne, leucaena, purple vetch, lablab, desmodium, clotalaria etc). In addition to the feed, ensure the animal has clean and adequate water at all times day and night- a dairy cow weighing 400kg requires at least 40 litres of water per day for maintenance and extra 4 litres of water per litres of milk produced. Therefore a cow producing 20 litres of milk would require 120 lts of water per day. Ensure that the water taken by your cows is not very cold. Cows prefer lukewarm than cold water.

Supplementation of these feeds with minimal concentrates (dairy meal) on a daily basis is important in order to provide the dairy cow with extra nutrients and minerals it requires for its maintenance and that of the unborn calf. A close observation of the incalf dairy cow is very important on the part of the farmer to ensure that the animal is in good health.

Under ideal conditions, a dairy cow should be able to calf down at least once in a year. Since a year has 365 days, the cow should be dried (stop milking) 60 days before it calfs down. For the farmer to know when to stop milking the cow, they can subtract 60 days from 365, which comes to the 305th day from the date the cow conceived.

To make it easier for the farmer to understand, we give you different feed requirements for dairy cows at various stages of lactation.

General requirements of dairy cows for maintenance

Body weight in Kilogrammes

(kg)

Energy requirements per day

MJ/day

Crude Protein

Per Kg  of milk

CP/day

300

38.6

0.288

350

38.88

0.324

400

42.9

0.358

450

46.9

0.39

500

50.8

0.423

550

54.8

0.454

 

Requirement for a dairy cow producing milk

Milk butter fat

(%)

Energy requirements

MJ/ kg milk

Crude Protein

kg/kg milk

3.4

4.9

0.081

3.6

5.0

0.082

4.0

5.3

0.085

 

Example of feed ration for an incalf dairy cow weighing 400 kg

Feed type

Fresh weight

(Kg)

Percentage of dry matter

 

(%DM)

Dry matter in feed

(Kg)

Energy MJ per kg of dry matter

(MJ)

Crude protein per kg of dry matter

(g)

Energy

In mega

Joules (MJ)

Crude protein in

(kg)

Napier grass

30

20

6

7.4

70

44.5

O.420

Lucerne

6

80

4.8

10.8

160

51.84

0.768

Total available

36

 

10.8

 

 

 

96.24

1.188

Requirement

 

 

 

 

 

92.9

1.144

Surplus

 

 

 

 

 

3.34

0.044

 

Ration for a dairy cow for milk production weighing 400 kg

 

 

Fresh weight

(Kg)

Percentage of dry matter

 

(%DM)

Dry matter in feed

(Kg)

 Energy MJ per kg of dry matter

(MJ)

Crude protein  per kg of Dry matter

 

(g)

Energy I Mega joules

 

 

(MJ)

Crude protein per kg

 

 

(kg)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Napier grass

30

20

6

7.4

70

44.4

O.420

Lucerne

6

80

4.8

10.8

160

51.84

0.768

Dairy meal

6

90

5.4

12

160

64.8

0.864

total

42

 

 

 

 

161.04

2.052

requirement

 

 

 

 

 

142.9

1.964

surplus

 

 

 

 

 

18.14

0.088

 

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