Watch Out For Fat Cows This Spring

UK - Dairy nutrition consultant, Hefin Richards of Profeed Nutrition Consultancy, is warning farmers to be on the lookout for an upsurge in over-conditioned cows as winter progresses through spring.
calendar icon 13 March 2013
clock icon 2 minute read

His prediction is based on a number of factors that have come together over the last year to greatly increase the risk of cows being over-conditioned at calving, not only potentially affecting productivity but predisposing to a number of clinical conditions.

A high body condition score at calving significantly increases the risk of subclinical ketosis in early lactation, depressing the immune response and increasing the risk of conditions such as retained foetal membranes, metritis and left displaced abomasum.These obese cows can even go on to suffer excessive body condition loss due to decreased voluntary feed intake and poor energy metabolism.

The risk has been increased in part because national milk yields were low last summer and autumn as a result of poor weather conditions, low milk prices, high feed costs and the spread of Schmallenberg virus (SBV).

Mr Richards explained, “SBV and bad summer weather with associated poor forage quality may have delayed rebreeding, leading to more extended lactations and longer dry periods. These two factors can lead to excessively fat cows at calving.”

Through the winter many herds were running average milk yields some way below usual winter levels and currently mid and late lactation cows are substantially under target yields. This lower yield means that feed intake is very likely to be in excess of actual energy demands, with the end result that cows put on too much condition.

This warning should prompt farmers to check the body condition scores of their dry and end of lactation cows. Adjusting feeding and possibly drying some cows off early using controlled energy feeding are just some of the strategies worth discussing with the farm nutritionist and vet.

Mr Richards suggested that farmers discuss with their vets ketosis monitoring programmes to identify if their herd is at risk of “hidden” ketosis. On-farm blood testing or use of Elanco’s Ketotest cow-side milk test allows at-risk herds to be easily identified.

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