Delayed Concentrate Build-up Effect on Cow Production, Health and Fertility

Milk production and fertility are unaffected by adopting a delayed concentrate build-up strategy in early lactation, according to research by the University of Nottingham.
calendar icon 20 March 2012
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Animal Bytes

Adopting a delayed concentrate build-up strategy in early lactation improved forage intake and had no detrimental effect on production performance. In fact it resulted in a trend towards improved energy status for the cows involved in the study, and reproductive performance was unaffected.

Some good news for dairy producers, from Northern Ireland’s top dairy research facilities, that takes them a step closer to determining just how to get cows off to the very best start post calving – a critical time in the dairy production cycle.

The high milk production potential of the modern dairy cow frequently results in excessive and prolonged periods of negative energy balance (NEB) during early lactation. “And the most common approach to reduce NEB is to increase energy intake by increasing the proportion of concentrates being offered,” the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s Ryan Law told delegates at this year’s British Society of Animal Science’s annual conference, held at the University of Nottingham.

“However, offering diets containing high levels of concentrates can lead to rumen acidosis, impaired rumen function and reduced intakes, the latter exacerbating NEB. Introducing concentrates into the diet of fresh calved cows at a slower rate is likely to improve rumen function.”

He added that diet crude protein (CP) content is likely to be reduced through offering a lower concentrate diet in early lactation. “Offering a lower protein diet has been shown to reduce milk output, have no effect on dry matter intake, and to improve cow energy status. So the objective of our study was to compare two very different strategies for introducing concentrates into the diet in early lactation, namely a rapid build-up or a delayed build-up.”

The team took 60 autumn-calving Holstein Friesian cows and offered them a basal diet (via feeder wagon) containing 35 per cent concentrate and 65 per cent forage on a dry matter basis (150g CP/kgDM and 12MJ of ME/kgDM). Cows were allocated to one of two post-calving concentrate allocation strategies (via out-of-parlour feeders), namely a rapid build up of concentrates (RBU) or a delayed build up of concentrates (DBU).

With the rapid build-up treatment cows were offered 2kg concentrate/cow/day on the day of calving, and this was then built up incrementally (0.5kg/day) to a maximum of 7kg/cow/day at day 10 post calving. Cows allocated the delayed build-up treatment received no additional concentrate via out-of-parlour feeders until day 28 of lactation, and thereafter received incremental concentrate levels (0.5kg/day) to a maximum of 7kg/cow/day at day 42 post calving. Cows remained on these two dietary treatments until day 150 of lactation.

“Total dry matter intake was unaffected by concentrate build-up strategy, but forage intake was significantly higher for cows allocated to DBU treatment and concentrate intakes were lower,” said Dr Law. “Neither milk yield nor milk composition was affected by concentrate build-up strategy and despite the lack of treatment effects on milk production, cows on DBU returned to positive energy balance earlier (week 7 post calving), compared to those on RBU (week 19 post-calving),” he added.

Full details: Law RA, McGettrick S, Ferris C: “Effect of concentrate build-up strategy in early lactation on production performance, health and fertility of high-yielding dairy cows.” Presented to the British Society of Animal Science Annual Conference, April 4 - 5, 2011, University of Nottingham, UK.

March 2012

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