TIME4GRAZING – Feeding cows at spring turnout

Feeding dairy cows at spring turnout

With silage currently costing approximately £1.50 per percentage of dry matter (DM) to produce and grass costing considerably less, assessing the quality of grass before and after turnout and using the findings to accurately inform forage and concentrate rations will help improve milk from grass this spring.

Balancing diets at turnout to prevent milk yield, butterfat levels or cow health from being affected needs to be a priority. Make sure you take the following steps to avoid these issues:

Analyse grass prior to turnout

Before spring turnout, it’s a good idea to call your local on-farm specialist to conduct grass analysis to help establish the potential milk from grazing to ensure optimum milk yield and quality are achieved.

Once an accurate estimate of milk yield from grass is obtained, dairy diets can be accurately balanced with concentrates and forage. Carr’s Billington can help with this using their DietCheck™ rationing programme.

Grass should be sampled between every two and four weeks after turnout and diets adjusted accordingly throughout the grazing season for two reasons:

  • If too much milk is produced from grass or if grass quality isn’t adequate, cows will lose condition to maintain their predicted milk yield
  • The nutritional value of grass and intakes vary day to day depending on which field cattle are in, how much grass is available and the weather conditions. During a nice spring day, cows will graze for longer periods of time. In contrast, wet, cold weather can reduce intakes and cause the grass dry matter and sugar content to drop. It’s important to note that issues, such as poor fertility and a decline in milk quality due to loss of condition, could arise after prolonged periods of reduced grass intakes.

Feed the correct concentrates and forage

Feeding dairy cows at spring turnout

It’s recommended that concentrates are adjusted as soon as possible once cows are turned out. Spring grass is usually high in Rumen Degradable Protein (RDP) which needs to be balanced with fermentable energy (FME), then topped up with DUP for higher yielding cows. Look for a cake that contains 16 or 14% protein and good DUP content from ingredients such as Carr’s Billington’s own AminoMax rumen-protected proteins.

If spring weather conditions are unusually dry, grass fertiliser uptake may be limited which could result in grass protein levels being lower than expected. In this instance, cows should continue to be fed an 18% protein cake, especially if they’re still getting a lot of silage.

On the other hand, lush spring grass is often very high in sugar and protein but low in fibre which can reduce butterfat levels and cause subclinical acidosis (SARA). To prevent this, add extra fibre into the herd’s diet by continuing to offer silage as a buffer feed and balancing with concentrates that are lower in protein and higher in digestible fibre. Look for feeds that contain our unique TechTonic rumen conditioner to reduce the risk of SARA and improve milk yields and butterfat percentage. Good quality, highly digestible fibre sources include sugar beet pulp, palm kernel and soya hulls and, unless high quantities of silage are being fed, beware of feeding too much wheat or barley.

Feed adequate levels of minerals and vitamins

It’s also important to consider mineral and vitamin levels within concentrate feeds to keep cows healthy.

As cows get closer to turnout Carr’s Billington increase the magnesium levels within the winter dairy cakes to help protect cows against staggers (hypomagnesemia). Once turned out, feed a summer cake that contains an adequate level of magnesium for your production system.

Cows on production systems that are fed very low levels of concentrates could benefit from Carr’s Billington’s MaxGrazer dairy cake once turned out. 2-4kg per day will adequately cover their mineral and vitamin requirements and the high energy content will also help support the fertility of spring calving herds.