Time4Calving: A Guide On Dry Cow Nutrition

a guide on dry cow nutrition

The feed and nutrition given to dry cows has a vital impact on their upcoming lactation and chance of taking during the next service.

To ensure dry cow requirements are met, consider splitting cows into two groups pre-calving; far-off dry cows (from drying off, to 2-3 weeks prior to calving) and close to calving cows (2-3 weeks pre-calving). This will increase the likelihood of each cow reaching the desired milk yield post-calving, reduce the risk of metabolic diseases and help prevent problems at calving. Our experts recommend bearing in mind the following factors when managing dry cows:

Body condition score (BCS)

Aim to achieve a body condition score of 2.5-3.0 at drying off. The cows should be monitored throughout the dry period and diets adjusted accordingly to maintain this BCS as they calf down. Doing so will help reduce the risk of health issues and problems at calving. Don’t forget:

  • Cows with a higher than ideal BCS during the dry period are more prone to experiencing health issues at calving such as ketosis and milk fever. If cows have too high a BCS at the start of drying off and then lose condition during the dry period, they are more likely to have a difficult calving (dystocia)
  • Cows with a lower than ideal BCS during the dry period could be at higher risk of ketosis
  • If cows need to gain weight during the dry period, this should be achieved within the far-off period. This will enable diets to be adjusted gradually and prevent cows becoming overfat prior to calving


Nutritional balance

It’s important that the quality and quantity of feed given to dry cows is correct. Pay attention to:

Dry matter intakes

Dry matter intakes pre-calving will impact milk yield post-calving so it is important dry cow diets provide a sufficient amount. The average pre-calving Holstein (650kg) will require a dry matter intake of around 12kg per day.

Far-off dry cows should be given a maintenance diet of mainly low-quality forage. Hay, straw and stalky forages with a low digestibility value should be fed to maintain rumen fill and provide just enough energy. 

Cows near to calving should be fed in preparation for entering the milking herd. Their diet should contain a high level of fermentable carbohydrates to increase rumen volume and stimulate rumen absorptive capacity. This reduces the amount of fat mobilised during early lactation to prevent too much condition being lost. Aim to feed a diet consisting of 70-80% forage plus concentrates.

Contact your local Carr’s Billington on-farm dairy nutritionist to ensure the diet you are feeding to dry cows is balanced to meet nutritional requirements.

Protein and energy

The ideal protein content in dry cow diets is 13-14% (130 – 140 g/kg). Diets with less than 12% protein have been linked to a reduction in colostrum quality, feed intake and early lactation milk yields.

A low energy diet of 9MJ per kg of dry matter of energy should be fed to far-off cows.

Providing a diet with high intake potential and energy density to close up cows can support greater dry matter intakes (DMI) both pre and post calving. Aim for 115/120 MJ of ME per cow per day.

dry cow nutrition vitamix

Immune system support

The dry cow’s immune system is compromised at calving so it’s important that vitamin and mineral requirements are optimised pre-calving to reduce health issues.

A balanced diet should provide sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, although supplementation may also be required in some instances.

Key points to note about dry cow vitamin and mineral requirements include:

  • Grass silage in the UK is often high in potassium. Potassium levels that are too high within dry cow diets can restrict calcium mobilisation at calving which can cause milk fever
  • A diet that is low in calcium (30g per head per day) should be supplied to dry cows to increase the efficiency of calcium mobilisation at calving
  • Higher levels of magnesium within dry cow diets will assist with calcium uptake at calving for increased colostrum and milk production. Dairy cows may require more than 20-30g of magnesium per day although this depends on the constituents of the diet
  • A calcium bolus can be administered to cows at high-risk of milk fever immediately pre-calving. Predisposing factors that could cause a cow to be classified as ‘high risk’ include older cows (the risk of milk fever increases by approximately 9% per lactation) or pasture or legume fed dry cows
  • Dry cows will require higher levels of selenium, vitamin E and Zinc. Vitamin E and selenium will not only help immune function, to prevent and decrease the severity of mastitis, but could prevent white muscle disease in the calves. Zinc helps with the production of antibodies
  • Adding a premium yeast fraction like SafMannan ®, can help to improve rumen function and colostrum quality
  • A fresh cow drink containing glucose, vitamins and minerals and rehydration salts can be given immediately after calving to prevent deficiencies which could potentially cause a delay in her entering the milking herd or reduced milk production

Interested to learn more about feeding dairy cows in autumn? Read this blog.

Time4Lambing: Our Guide To Preparing For The Lambing Season

Preparation for lambing 01

Feeding ewes pre-lambing 

It’s vital that ewe nutrition is optimised throughout pregnancy to aid lamb development, as well as maintain ewe health and condition. Particular attention should be paid to their diet in the last six weeks of gestation, as this is when ewes start to produce colostrum and 70% of foetal growth takes place.  

Splitting ewes up according to the number lambs they’re carrying at scanning, will mean feed can be allocated correctly. This means target pre-lambing body condition scores (BCS) will be met, reducing the risk of problems either side of labour. 

Aim for the following target body condition scores at lambing (AHDB)

Ewe type 

Lowland ewe (60-80kg) 

Hill ewe (40-60kg) 

Ewe lambs 

Target BCS at lambing 

3.0 – 3.5 




If ewes are over-condition, they’re more prone to prolapse. Whereas under-conditioned ewes may have a reduced milk yield and produce lambs with a lower birthweight and/or survival rate.  

Our experts recommend providing cake or nuts that contain 16-18% protein to ewes carrying multiple lambs. This will help to ensure ewes maintain the correct BCS. Providing a higher protein and energy diet will also help to prevent twin lamb disease. 

It’s also important to ensure ewes have enough selenium and Vitamin E in their diet during late gestation. This will help support immune function, which is compromised just before the ewe lambs. These minerals and vitamins are also vital to help improve lamb vigour, survivability at birth and long-term growth rates.  

Metabolic testing, to detect vitamin and mineral deficiencies, can be carried out by your vet and blocks or buckets can be used to supplement livestock. Alternatively, drenches and boluses can be used to ensure individual ewes are dosed.  

Silage analysis should be considered to better understand the dry matter, nutrients and trace elements are available.  

Preparation for lambing

Health planning 


Our experts recommend vaccinating against clostridial diseases, such as lamb dysentery, and pasteurellosis, which can cause lamb deaths.  

Breeding ewes will require a primary course of two pasurella injections four to six weeks apart followed by an annual booster four to six weeks before lambing. Clostridial diseases should be vaccinated against four weeks prior to lambing. 

Also consider administering a footrot injection to sheep, at least four weeks before lambing if they’re housed. This will help to prevent it spreading. 

Treat for parasites 

Liver fluke poses a risk to in-lamb ewes as it can cause anaemia, rapid loss of condition and even death. It can also reduce lamb birth weight and cause abortion. Because of this, consider treating pregnant ewes with a flukicide at least six weeks prior to lambing. 

Worms become active once they detect oxytocin in the blood – the hormone that signals the start of milk production in the ewe just before and after lambing. Treating ewes soon after lambing when milk production has begun will therefore be beneficial. 

Lice and scab also pose a risk to livestock during the winter as the parasites tend to be more active when temperatures fall. It’s crucial ewes are treated prior to the lambing season, to reduce the risk of lice or scab being passed onto lambs, as treatment isn’t available for lambs under three weeks of age.  

Lambing kit list 

There’s nothing more frustrating than not having everything you need while you’re in the middle of lambing. Here’s our handy checklist to make sure you’re prepared: 

  • Milk powder 
  • Colostrum 
  • Iodine 
  • Disposable gloves 
  • Marker 
  • Lamb warming box  
  • Infrared lamps and bulbs 
  • Tail and castration rings 
  • Elastrator pliers 
  • Lime/disinfect 
  • Bottles and tubes 
  • Syringes and needles 
  • Prolapse harness/spoon 
  • Gels and lubes 
  • Ropes and instruments 
  • Feeder buckets 
  • Hay racks 
  • Medication that might be required e.g. antibiotics 
  • Glucose solution to treat twin lamb disease  
  • Cade lamb feeders  
  • Clean and disinfect sheds  
  • Set up lambing pens, including cade lamb pens 
  • Check water supply and clean water troughs 
lambing list cover
Click to View

View our 2022 Lambing Essentials List

Everything you need to get lambing done right this season


  • Ewe Feeds
  • Drenches
  • Minerals, Feed Buckets & Blocks
  • POM-VPS Medicine


  • Lambing Essentials
  • Marking
  • Gloves
  • Clothing
  • Disinfectants & Cleaners
  • Heat Lamps
  • Equipment


  • Lamb Nutrition & Feeding

Advice For Dairy Farmers On Handling Dry Silages

handling dry silages

Many dairy farmers will aim to achieve silages that are between  25-30% dry matter (DM). But with challenging weather early on in the grass growing season, 2021 samples, in a number of cases, have indicated silage is dry with an average of over 40% DM.

When dry matter is already so high in silage, it becomes crucial that consideration is taken on how to manage the overall DM within total mixed rations (TMR). This will avoid issues with palatability and the knock-on effects of this.

Benefits of adding moisture

For those who are seeing silage with high DM values, adding moisture, such as water, into a TMR is recommended. This can often help prevent dairy cows sorting the ration, which can lead to issues like subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and poor milk quality.  

For farmers looking at this option as a solution, consideration should be given to how much water needs to be added to a TMR diet, as this can impact palatability of the diet and intakes. An understanding of the dry matter of all dry ingredients is needed to accurately measure the volume of water required to achieve a TMR with a total optimal DM of 40%. Aim for the following amounts of water:

TMR dry matter before water is added (%)

Added water requirement to reach optimal TMR dry matter of 40% (Litres/head)










Table 1: Water calculations

Before adding water to a TMR, it’s important the potential issues associated with this process are understood so that the necessary precautions can be taken:

  • If water isn’t left to soak-in, sorting of rations could be a problem as there isn’t enough time for the water to penetrate the feeds before being eaten
  • Keep an eye on potential ‘balling’ of concentrates, caused by faulty blades on a mixer wagon or insufficient mixing time. This will mean the mix is denser than a standard TMR, putting pressure on machinery parts
  • Adding a preservative or mould-inhibitor, such as Selco TMR, at the time of mixing can help reduce further heating and waste. Adding a liquid feed, such as molasses, together with water is more effective than adding water alone to help reduce sorting.

Compact feeding

Another option to aid palatability when DM is high is compact feeding. This is a form of feeding that provides cows with feed that has usually been soaked for longer than a standard diet to reduce the likelihood of sorting.

This technique has been shown to increase daily milk yield by an average of 1.6 litres/cow and achieve even dung, butterfat and rumination levels among cows.

If going down this route, add 1 litre of water to 1kg concentrates and soak the feed overnight. This will mean it’s less likely to heat up than if water is added to the forages, reducing the risk of spoilage.

Top tip: Adequate fibre levels are needed in the diet for compact feeding to work, and diets must not have a high level of fermentable starch prior to adding water, because fermentation will increase and lead to potential issues with acidosis.

Pay attention to potential contamination risks

Dry silage could provide a source of mycotoxin contamination and poor dry matter intakes. This is because very dry silages are difficult to consolidate, especially at the sides of the clamp. This allows air to remain in the clamp and mould to grow, causing mild or severe mycotoxin issues. 

Pay attention to good hygiene to reduce mycotoxin contamination risk. Using a shear grab will help to keep the face of the silage clamp clean while also reducing heating, spoilage and losses at feed out. Aim to move across the pit as fast as possible as this reduces exposure of the silage. Half grabs may have to be taken to achieve this. If issues are seen in cows, consider feeding a mycotoxin binder.

Breathe Easy This Winter

respiratory hoslyx

We all want our equines to be in the peak of health.In trained horses, the main limitation to optimum performance are respiratory issues.In a study of horses referred for veterinary examination because of poor performance, 81% (4 out of 5) had respiratory disease, therefore it’s quite clear that if your horse or pony struggles with respiratory issues, success is likely to be elusive.

Winter is an especially worrying time for equines with respiratory issues because stabling for more of the time can lead to increased issues, so management and care of these horses and ponies is paramount.

How can you reduce the risk of respiratory challenges?

One of the major issues with respiratory challenges is air quality and by confining your horse or pony to a stable means that the air quality is likely to be poorer than in the open air.  Unfortunately, after a period of wet weather, many livery yards will require stabling over the winter months and some equines may struggle to maintain weight if kept outside.  Therefore, aiming to improve air quality within the stable should be paramount by assessing the quality and type of bedding and forage used.  Using a dust extracted bedding and good quality forage or steaming the forage can all help reduce the risk of respiratory challenges towards your horse or pony.  Unfortunately, if you do all you can, but next door is using dusty straw and a poor-quality hay then all your good work can quickly be undone!

Can feed ingredients help?

Some ingredients can help support a healthy respiratory system, so it is useful to source products containing them.

Menthol, eucalyptus and aniseed can help keep airways clear of mucus, which can help the horse to breathe more easily and therefore may dramatically reduce stress.

Antioxidants are the body’s natural defence against oxidative damage from free radicals produced during immune challenge.  They play an important role in maintaining the health and integrity of all the different types of cells within the body and support and maintain a healthy immune system, which aids healthy lung function.

The antioxidant Vitamin C plays a crucial role in respiratory health.  Being water soluble, Vitamin C is found in very high concentrations in the fluid lining the airways.

respiratory hoslyx

Horslyx Respiratory Balancer has been formulated to provide a unique two-pronged approach in supporting a healthy respiratory system. Ingredients, such as menthol, eucalyptus and aniseed support the airways, while the high specification balancer package includes the antioxidants Vitamins C and E, selenium, chelated copper and zinc to help provide optimum lung support.  Horslyx Respiratory Balancer is available in 650g, 5kg and 15kg sizes.

respiratory horslyx

For further information please visit www.horslyx.com, email info@horslyx.com or call 016973 32592.

Time2Finish: Preventing acidosis in beef cattle

preventing acidosis in beef cattle

Maximising meat yield and optimal fat cover for finishing beef cattle is all about providing sufficient energy and starch. But this needs to be achieved without upsetting rumen stability. This means finishing rations must be balanced and fed correctly to prevent issues such as acidosis occurring.

What is rumen acidosis?

There are two types of rumen acidosis, acute ruminal acidosis which is more common in finishing cattle and subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA) which is more common in dairy cows. Read more about formulating autumn diary diets to prevent SARA here.

Effect of acidosis

Ruminal acidosis is a metabolic disease caused by prolonged periods of changes in rumen pH from the optimum range, between 6.5 to 7.0 (the ideal conditions for fibre-degrading bacteria), to 5.5 or less.

The fall in rumen pH causes rumen movement to reduce or stop completely. This depresses appetite, reducing feed conversion efficiency subsequently impacting daily live weight gain targets. This means cattle that recover from acidosis may not reach their target finishing weight or take longer to do so.

The balance of the rumen micro-flora is also affected by the change in pH, increasing acid producing bacteria. The acid can damage the rumen epithelium, causing metabolic acidosis, which can lead to shock or death within 24-48 hours in severe cases.

Liver abscesses can develop secondarily to acidosis which can increase the risk of further health issues. Laminitis can also occur, making it painful for cattle to stand, reducing feed intakes further.

Causes of acidosis in cattle

Finishing rations for beef cattle typically contain a high level of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates (such as barley, wheat or concentrates) which are the primary cause of acidosis if:

  • Cattle are suddenly transitioned from grazing or high forage diets on to the finishing diet
  • Cattle ingest large amounts of cereals or a diet high in concentrates in a short period of time
  • Insufficient fibre is fed to accompany the rapidly fermentable carbohydrate rich feed

The clinical signs of acidosis will be presented more quickly if the grain fed is milled or ground, as opposed to whole, because it is fermented faster which increases digestibility.

Symptoms of ruminal acidosis

Not all cattle affected by acidosis will show symptoms. However, common signs include:

  • An enlarged rumen and abdominal pain indicated by belly kicking or tail swishing soon after eating.
  • Cattle may gorge on water after consuming large amounts of cereals or concentrates but stop drinking as the condition worsens
  • Dung may be loose or soft, grey and foamy. It may also contain gas bubbles and undigested feed and have a sweet-sour smell
  • Poor rumination/cudding rates and/or poor appetite
  • 24-48 hours after severe engorgement, cattle may appear weak, lethargic or have difficulty moving
  • Signs of more severe acidosis include a decreased heart rate and an increase in temperature. Some cattle may appear to improve temporarily before becoming severely ill once again

Preventing rumen acidosis in finishing beef cattle

There are simple feed management protocols you can follow that will help prevent acidosis occurring. These include:

  1. Make any diet changes over a two-to-three-week period to allow rumen microbial populations to transition from predominantly fibre digesters to predominantly starch digesters.  Top Tip:  You can achieve this by incorporating 3kg/head/day of concentrate or cereals into the ration and stepping this up by 1 kg every 3 days. Monitor for digestive disturbances as you do, until you have reached the desired maximum feeding level
  2. Ensure there is a supply of roughage, preferably wheat straw, to encourage rumination. Hay or haylage is more likely to substitute concentrate intake and reduce performance. Straw should ideally be chopped between 2-4 inches to minimise sorting.
  1. Consider adding a live yeast into the total mixed ration (TMR) or use a feed formulated to include a live yeast. This can help prevent dietary upset when transitioning to higher-energy rations because the live yeast helps to stabilise rumen pH.
  2. Feed concentrates and cereals ad lib or in small meals, to prevent gorging.
  3. Ensure there is adequate feed space to allow cattle access at all times to reduce competition and gorging.
  4. Make sure clean water is available at all times. Finishing cattle can require as much as 80 litres of water/head/day.
  5. Ensure finishing diets are formulated correctly and keep them as consistent as possible once they are. Consult your local Carr’s Billington on-farm specialist if you require advice or assistance.

Acidosis treatment

You may need to consult your vet for advice if you need assistance with treating acidosis or the secondary issues it can cause.

The Latest Advice On Feeding Horses And Ponies With Gastric Ulcers

gastric ulcers blog

Katie Williams M.Sc. (Dist) R Nutr, Technical Manager at Dengie Horse Feeds.

Over the last decade, studies have increased our awareness and understanding of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome but there is still much to learn. We know there are two distinct diseases which affect different areas of the stomach: Equine Squamous Gastric Disease (ESGD) and Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD). Whilst a recognised aetiology and recommended management regimes exist for ESGD, less is known about EGGD.

Symptoms of gastric ulcers in horses

Symptoms are not always very easy to distinguish from other issues or diseases but some common ones include weight loss, dull coat, biting when being girthed and intermittent colic. However, it is important to consider that good doers and those that look healthy on the outside can have ulcers too. It is also apparent that there is no link between the severity of ulcers and the symptoms – some horses are clearly very stoic and can have grade 4 ulcers with no obvious clinical signs.  

There are some well established practices that are known to increase the risk of horses having ulcers:

  • Feeding too little fibre – chewing fibre produces more than double the amount of saliva than chewing concentrates
  • Feeding 1% of bodyweight as grain resulted in a marked increase in ulcers in non-exercised horses
  • Feeding 2g/kg BW starch per day or 1g/kg BW per meal more than doubled the risk of a horse having ulcers. If you would like to work out how much starch your horse is receiving then why not try our Starch Intake Calculator | Dengie Horse Feeds
gastric ulcers

So if too little forage is a risk factor, how much forage should I feed?

Ad lib forage is the simple answer assuming the horse isn’t overweight. Horses will typically consume between 2 and 2.5% of bodyweight per day as forage when offered ad lib access. Ponies may consume more so it is important to watch for weight gain as a result.

For horses and ponies needing to lose weight we would suggest feeding 1.5% of their bodyweight in fibre daily as a minimum. For a 500kg horse this would be 7.5kg dry matter, or 8.8kg of hay as fed, assuming the hay is 85% dry matter. This quantity is likely to be less than the horse would consume if given free choice access and so should be split up into as many small, regular feeds as possible so that the horse is kept eating for as long as possible through the day and night. Using small-holed nets or double netting can also help the forage allowance to last longer.

straw feed

Can straw be fed to horses with ulcers?

Back in 2009, a study that looked at the incidence of gastric ulceration in a population of horses found that those that were fed straw as the sole or predominant fibre source were more likely to have ulcers. The reasons given related to the structure of straw and the fact that straw contains low levels of calcium and protein. This makes sense given that it is alfalfa’s naturally high protein and calcium levels that are thought to make it a superior buffer.

However, the key here is that straw was used as the sole or predominant fibre source which is something we simply don’t tend to do in the UK. Straw is regularly fed to horses in chopped form and so is not fundamentally an issue. The current advice, even for ulcer prone horses, is that straw can be included typically up to 30% of the total daily ration. Using Dengie products that contain straw such as Hi-Fi Lite or Hi-Fi Molasses Free, at the recommended feeding rate will be well within these guidelines and are an appropriate choice of feed for good doers and ulcer prone horses.

Should my ulcer prone good doer have a bucket feed?

Whilst the large majority of any horse’s diet should be forage even good do-ers can benefit from a bucket feed for the following reasons:

To provide a balanced diet; UK pastures lack a number of key trace minerals including zinc, copper and selenium as well as vitamin E in conserved forage. Vitamins and minerals are important for many different functions such as energy breakdown and utilisation and as part of the body’s antioxidant defence system. Topping up these nutrients by adding a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer to a low calorie chopped fibre feed to act as a carrier helps to ensure a balanced diet is supplied.

As a lower calorie alternative to hay; hay and haylage can easily supply more energy or calories than the good do-er requires and so the amount fed may need to be restricted. Alternatively, a proportion of the forage ration can be replaced with something even lower calorie such Dengie Hi-Fi Lite. Overall, this may mean the horse can have a larger amount to eat which increases chew time and fibre intake to help support digestive health.

As a pre-exercise feed to reduce the risk of acid splash; research has shown that feeding alfalfa as a fibre source is a superior buffer in the digestive tract. Feeding a double handful of a chopped alfalfa-based fibre feed in the 20-25 minutes before you ride is recommended to help prevent ‘acid splash’ in the non-glandular region of your horse’s stomach. The fibre ensures the stomach isn’t empty and suppresses the movement of the acidic contents when the horse moves.

What should I feed my good doer prone to ulcers?

Whilst Dengie Healthy Tummy, Alfa-A Oil or Performance Fibre have the BETA feed approval mark for equines prone to gastric ulcers, these feeds all supply 11.5MJ/kg or more digestible energy which makes them higher calorie feeds that are less suited to the good do-er. Whilst the overall calorie intake could be controlled by limiting the amount fed, it is more beneficial for your horse to have more of a lower calorie feed to provide more chew time. Dengie have other alternatives which would be better suited to good doers such as Healthy Hooves Molasses Free, Hi-Fi Molasses Free or Hi-Fi Lite.

healthy tummy
alfa a oil
performance fibre

Available from your local Carr’s Billington Country Store

Top Tips for Feeding the Good Doer Horse with Gastric Ulcers

  • Make fibre the foundation of the diet, both long stem and short chop, topping up with a supplement or balancer to provide a balanced diet.
  • Keep fibre intake as maximal as possible whilst managing bodyweight by using late cut hay and other lower calorie fibre sources such as Hi-Fi LiteHi-Fi Molasses Freeor Healthy Hooves Molasses Free.
  • Feed regular forage feeds split into as many small meals as possible when your horse is not at grass leaving a larger quantity overnight.
  • Feed a small alfalfa-based meal prior to exercising.
split meals
hi-fi molasses free
healthy hooves molasses free

Available from your local Carr’s Billington Country Store

Can I use alfalfa for horses with ulcers?

The simple answer is yes you can. Studies back in the early 2000s (Nadeua et al, 2000; Lybbert et al, 2007) showed that alfalfa was more beneficial for horses with ulcers (ESGD) compared to grass forages, as the high levels of calcium and magnesium it contains act as natural buffers to acidity.

Why does alfalfa contain more calcium than grass forages?

Alfalfa has really deep roots – about 3 to 4 metres – and the calcium at this depth in the soil is more available for absorption. This means that alfalfa plants can take up more calcium than grass – chopped alfalfa contains between 30 and 50% more calcium than grass forages. Early studies suggest that omeprazole is reducing calcium absorption in the horse as is seen in humans and in Swanhall et al’s (2018) study, they recommend using bio-available calcium sources in the diet to help counteract this effect. Plant based sources of calcium such as alfalfa are much easier for the horse to absorb than inorganic sources such as limestone flour.

How much alfalfa should be fed?

Researchers suggest adding around 200grams, which is about half a Stubbs scoop, when cereals are fed to help counteract the increases in acidity generated by the starch. Our view is why use cereals at all? Alfalfa provides a lot of slow release energy (10MJ/KG DE) whilst being around 10 times lower in starch than a mix or cube with a comparable energy content. It’s only really elite performance horses where a case can be made for using some cereal based feed and even then it should be used in moderation alongside high quality forages to promote gastric health.     

Why is alfalfa so low in starch?

Like other plants alfalfa makes sugar when photosynthesising but it stores any surplus as starch in its roots – the part that horses don’t eat! Grass plants tend to store sugar as fructan in leaves and the stem.

So why are some people concerned about feeding alfalfa?

Some people look at the percentage of protein in a pure alfalfa feed and are put off as they don’t consider how much is being fed and therefore the actual amount of protein the horse is consuming. For example, the Dengie Alfa-A range contain between 12 and 14% protein. 1 Stubbs scoop of Alfa-A Original (400g) supplies 48 grams of protein which is about 6-8% of a 500kgs horse’s daily maintenance needs. We recommend a max of 3kgs (7.5 scoops) per day which very few people get anywhere near feeding which provides about 1/3 of the protein a 500kgs horse in moderate to hard work requires.

There has also been a study published that has caused confusion. It explored the incidence of ulcers in foals and used the weaning process to induce ulcers. They then compared groups fed alfalfa chaff or alfalfa pellets or hay. Foals were fed 3kgs (7.5 Stubbs scoops) of alfalfa chaff (way more than is typically used or what we would recommend for foals), 2.7kgs of oats and 0.25kgs of soybean meal. It’s also important to note that the alfalfa chaff used was 40% lower in calcium than the alfalfa pellets used. Foals fed the alfalfa chaff had higher ulcer scores at the pylorus than those fed alfalfa pellets or hay but none showed any clinical signs. The same research group have recently published another study comparing grass and alfalfa hay in adult horses and the horse with ulcers at the start of the study no longer had ulcers having been fed the alfalfa hay in the study.  

So what can we conclude?

There have been no negative effects in the squamous region of the stomach in horses of any age from feeding alfalfa

The only group where an effect with alfalfa chaff has been seen is weaned foals – there were no issues associated with feeding alfalfa pellets which would still provide some natural buffering from the calcium they contain

Alfalfa chaff or chop is generally considered beneficial for adult horses at risk of or prone to EGUS

Independently Approved

The BETA approval mark for horses and ponies prone to Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome was set up back in 2014 with the aim of providing the horse owner with an independent guide to the products suitable for feeding to horses and ponies at risk of EGUS. Dengie have three products approved which are Alfa-A Oil, Performance Fibre and Healthy Tummy. They all include alfalfa and high levels of oil so can be used to promote weight gain and improved condition.

Top Tips for Feeding the Poor Doer with ulcers

  • Feed ad lib forage and source as good a quality as possible to reduce reliance on the bucket feed
  • A wrapped forage with a high dry matter of 70% or above is unlikely to have fermented and so is no more acidic than hay. It is likely to have been harvested earlier and so may be more digestible and is often more palatable which can be useful for those prone to ulcers.
  • Use highly digestible fibre sources in the bucket – sugar beet and alfalfa such as in Dengie Alfa-Beet are great for promoting weight gain without supplying additional starch
  • Use high oil feeds such as Dengie Alfa-A Oil to supply additional slow release energy without extra starch

For more information on feeding horses prone to gastric ulcers or for help and advice on all aspects of feeding call the Dengie Feedline: 01621 841188 or visit the website and complete our Feed Advice Form.


Lybbert, T. et al (2007), Proceedings of Annual Convention of the AAEP, Orlando, Florida, 2007.

Nadeau, J. et al (2000) Evaluation of diet as a cause of gastric ulcers in horses. American Journal of Veterinary Research. Jul;61(7):784-90.

Swanhall et al (2018) Mineral and Vitamin Supplementation Including Marine Derived Calcium Increases Bone Density in Thoroughbreds. Proceedings of the Australasian Equine Science Symposium

Feed & Management Tips for Senior Horses

tips for senior horses

No two senior horses are the same which means the most suitable diet and management for your horse will depend on his individual needs. However, we’ve teamed up with SPILLERS™ to provide you with some tops tips to help you make sure your golden oldie gets the care they deserve.


1. Not all senior horses are prone to weight loss! Balancers such as SPILLERS Supple + Senior Balancer are the ideal way to provide good doers with additional vitamins, minerals and amino acids to balance a forage-based diet, without excess calories. Obesity comes with a host of health and welfare implications including an increased risk of laminitis and certain types of colic, excess joint strain, heat intolerance and respiratory stress. Excess weight gain can also exacerbate ‘inflamm-aging’ – chronic low grade inflammation associated with ageing.

2. A diet low in non-structural carbohydrate or ‘starch and sugar’ is essential for seniors prone to laminitis, including those with PPID.

3. Pain or difficulty chewing can lead to weight loss and digestive upsets including choke, colic and loose droppings, making hay replacers essential for those unable to manage long fibre (or grazing). Possible options include short chopped fibres such as SPILLERS HAPPY HOOF and mashes such as SPILLERS Speedy-Mash Fibre and SPILLERS Senior-Super Mash.

4. Hay replacers should be divided into a minimum of four meals for those without access to grazing. Horses fed hay replacers may need to be separated from their companions at meal times to prevent sharing or bullying.

5. If your horse is reluctant to drink in cold weather, try adding some hot water to his buckets to take the chill off – some older horses have sensitive teeth! You can also try using warm water to soak mashes or dampen feeds. Reduced water intake is a risk factor for impaction colic, particularly in stabled horses fed dry hay.

6. Turnout provides gentle exercise but try to avoid uneven ground, steep inclines and heavily poached paddocks as they increase joint strain.

7. Arthritis in the neck or forelimbs may make grazing, lowering the head to eat or drink from ground level or pulling hay from a net uncomfortable. Speak to your vet if you have any concerns and try offering feed and water from raised buckets, mangers and troughs.

8. Choose field companions carefully. Older horse may be at risk of bullying and be prevented from accessing feed/ forage or shelter by more dominant members of the herd.

9. Some older horses have difficulty regulating their body temperature and may need their rugs changing more frequently. Did you know that getting too hot increases the risk of colic and can lead to reduced appetite, particularly in horses with PPID? Getting too hot can also contribute to excess weight loss, as can getting too cold.

10. If your senior has become fussy with age, consider feeds with added herbs or aromas such as SPILLERS Senior Complete Care Mix.  Changes in routine or being separated from companions can also make some seniors reluctant to tuck into their feed or forage.

If you need any further advice about feeding your senior horse or pony you can speak to a SPILLERS nutritionist by calling 01908 226626, Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm.


Time4Calving: Our Guide To Calf Milk Replacers

calf milk replacer

To reach the optimal serving weight by 13 – 14 months old, with the aim to calve down at 24 months, heifer calves must be growing at 0.85kg/day from birth to first service.
Our expert calf and youngstock team are able to offer on-farm advice on feeds and nutrition to help dairy youngstock reach these targets. However, they have also compiled a few top tips on what to consider when it comes to feeding milk replacers for your own reference:


Calves should be fed 15–20% of their body weight each day in whole milk or a suitable milk replacer to reach the targeted 0.85kg/day growth rate.

During cold weather, the volume of milk replacer fed should be increased to reflect the fact that calves will be using more energy to keep warm.

If temperatures fall below 200C, for every 10ºC drop, an extra 100g milk powder/day should be fed to a 50kg calf (0-3 weeks of age). So at 0ºC, feed an extra 200g per day. This should be achieved through increasing the volume of milk fed, rather than the concentration. Increasing the concentration will affect osmolality levels and can increase the risk of nutritional scour.

For calves older than three weeks, if temperatures fall below 100C, feed an extra 100g milk powder/day for every 10ºC drop. So at 0ºC, feed an extra 100g per day. This should also be achieved through increasing the volume of milk fed, rather than the concentration.


It is important to keep calves on the same milk replacer until weaning as this will avoid upset to their digestive systems, which could result in nutritional scours.

fed at consistent times every day to help the abomasum break down the milk efficiently and prevent digestive issues, such as bloat.


Milk replacer should be fed at a temperature of 37 – 39 ºC, as this is within the range of a calf’s body temperature.  This is particularly important during cold weather conditions to avoid lowering the calf’s internal body temperature. For tips on how to correctly mix milk replacer, watch our handy guide below:

Nutritional content

Dairy heifers will require a powder containing at least 22% protein to meet their nutritional requirements. However, some higher protein products, if they are of good quality, will encourage more stature and lean muscle development.

Most milk replacers contain a mixture of dairy and vegetable protein and the quality of the protein and how it has been processed is important. Look for hydrolysed wheat protein as the vegetable protein as it will provide a digestible alternative to dairy protein.

Pea protein, soya protein, wheat protein and wheat flour are typically harder for youngstock to digest and are therefore less available to the young calf. Soya protein concentrate is sometimes used in more economic milk replacers, but its digestibility is much lower than that of hydrolysed wheat.

Additionally, aim to feed a replacer with no less than 20% fat. Calves require energy to keep warm, to fight off infection, to move, and to grow. Calves are not at risk of becoming over fat during the milk feeding period, so the higher the fat content, the better. Fat also provides energy for protein utilisation and therefore encourages higher rates of growth.

Whey or skim?

Whey and skim milk replacers are digested differently by calves. Once skim milk reaches the abomasum, it produces an energy dense casein (an insoluble milk protein) clot that takes between eight to twelve hours to be fully digested. For this reason, calves on a skim-based milk replacer will appear fuller for longer than calves fed with a whey-based milk replacer.

Whey powders contain the whey fraction (a soluble milk protein) of milk which does not need to be clotted to be broken down, so goes straight to the small intestine for digestion. Whey-based milk replacers are therefore digested much faster, typically within two to three hours.

There are no advantages of choosing one type of milk replacer over the other, so long as the quality and digestibility of the raw materials is high. Make sure you speak to your local calf and youngstock specialist to find a replacer to best suit your system.

Provide straw, starter feed and water

Starter feed, straw and water should be provided from birth.

Although they won’t eat large amounts in the first few weeks, allowing access to starter feed will help with rumen development. At birth, a calf’s digestive system has the same four compartments to an adult cow, but only one compartment is fully functioning – the abomasum.

The rumen is under-developed at this stage, but this is the compartment that will become the powerhouse of the calf after weaning. It is therefore essential to encourage rumen development as quickly as possible whilst the calves are on milk.

We do this by providing starter feed rich in starch, which will produce important volatile fatty acids that stimulate growth of the rumen wall, and papillae development on the internal lining.

Equipment hygiene

Feeding equipment should be cleaned and disinfected after each feed to reduce the incidence of disease. If you want to know more about on-farm biosecurity and hygiene, read our calf management blog here.

Time4Calving: Our Guide To Calf Colostrum Management

calk colostrum management

All farmers know that feeding colostrum in the first few hours of life is crucial to ensuring a calf’s immune system is as strong as possible. Colostrum promotes intestinal maturation, and the antibodies and nutrients it contains reduces the likelihood of disease, such as scours or pneumonia. However, when rearing calves, it is crucial the ‘four Q’s’ are considered, as failing to do so will negatively impact calf health.
The Carr’s Billington calf and youngstock team have provided some top tips to remember when applying the four Q’s.

The four Q’s

Quality and Quantity

If colostrum is being taken from the dam, it should be done so within the first two hours after birth. The longer it is kept in the udder, the greater the risk of the quality declining, as the cow will start to re-absorb the antibodies and nutrients.


  • If colostrum is taken from the dam, ensure she hasn’t tested positive for Johne’s disease
  • Do not pool raw colostrum from different cows as this lowers the overall quality and increases the risk of disease
  • The dam’s body score condition at calving and her pre-calving diet will have an impact on her colostrum quality. 

If feeding a powdered colostrum, our experts recommend feeding a 100% dried bovine colostrum rather than a supplement type colostrum. This will mean that you can be sure calves receive all the vital nutrients and antibodies they require, whilst promoting absorbability. New-born calves need to consume 200g of antibodies within their first feed to ensure they have the best chance of obtaining passive immunity.

Colostrum quality will vary between cows, so it is recommended the colostrum is tested using a refractometer. When using a Brix refractometer, a reading of 22% is the target, as this equates to 50g of antibodies per litre.

Calves should receive 4 litres, or 10% of their body weight, in their first feed. Jersey cow colostrum is typically higher in quality compared to Holsteins, so jersey calves may only require a 3L feed to receive 200g of antibodies.

Calves should be fed another similar sized colostrum feed within 12 hours of birth.

Antibody level testing

Testing your calves’ blood for the antibody levels (IgG) or Total Protein (TP) will help identify any potential issues with colostrum management. You can ask your vet to test calves between 24 hours and 7 days old. The aim is for 80% or more of the calves tested to indicate a ‘good’ level of IgG and TP.

GOOD= >12 IgG g/L, >55 TP g/L

MODERATE= 10-12 IgG g/L, 50-55 TP g/L

POOR= <10 IgG g/L, <50 TP g/L


To ensure calves have the healthiest immune system possible, they should be fed within the first two hours of birth. Once the calf is born, its ability to absorb antibodies will start to decline, so time really is of the essence.  

If the calf has been taken from the dam, colostrum can be administered by a nipple bottle but remember, if calves aren’t sucking the recommended volume of colostrum, a stomach tube should be used.

Top tip: To reduce the risk of disease in new-born calves, the calving box needs to be as sterile as possible. As soon as the calf has been licked clean by the dam, it should be moved into its own clean pen and fed colostrum there.

calf feeding from bottle


Colostrum should be given quietly as this will minimise calf stress and maximise antibody absorption.

Collecting and storing colostrum

Any colostrum collected from the dam should be done so with clean hands or gloves and put into a clean container with a lid.

If colostrum becomes contaminated, a calf’s uptake of antibodies will decline, leaving them more susceptible to diseases such as septicaemia or diarrhoea. Bacteria within colostrum will double every 20 minutes if left at room temperature after collecting, so it should be covered and, if it’s not fed straight away, stored in a fridge or freezer.

Make sure the fridge is set to 4°C and use the colostrum within 72 hours or set the freezer to between -18 to -20°C and use within six months.

Labelling the containers with the date of collection and cow’s number will enable the identification of potential sources of disease outbreaks. It will also mean colostrum that has been stored for longer than the recommended period isn’t used, as it’s quality will have deteriorated.

Top tip for reheating colostrum: Do not use a microwave or hot water to defrost colostrum as this will destroy the antibodies within it. Allow it to defrost at room temperature and then warm in a water bath no hotter than 40ᵒC.

On-farm protocols

Make sure all staff follow the same on-farm calf management protocols which should include best colostrum feeding practices. This will help to ensure any issues with colostrum quality or calf health that are linked to colostrum management can be identified and resolved.

All feeding equipment should also be thoroughly cleaned after each use to prevent bacterial build up and the risk of passing on disease to calves. Read more about on-farm biosecurity and hygiene in our calf management blog.

Time4Calving: Our Guide To Dairy Calf Management

dairy cow management

It is crucial dairy calves are managed correctly to help reduce the incidence of disease. Poor health could negatively impact growth rates and their ability to meet the ideal 24 months calving target.

Read our handy checklist of factors that should be considered when rearing calves to give them the best possible start below:


Whether calves are housed in sheds, hutches or igloos, it’s vital their environment is carefully managed.

Stocking density

Overstocking calves will reduce the amount of airspace per animal and potentially increase the number of bacteria circulating in the air, leading to a higher risk of disease transmission. Upsizing pens from 2.3m2 to 4.1m2, for example, can reduce the total bacterial count by half.

Pen Size Requirements:

Many assurance schemes determine the minimum space requirement for calves.  As a rough guide we recommend:

  • A minimim of 1½ m2  per calf for calves less than 60kg (Newborn)
  • A minimum 3m2  per cald when they get towards weaning
  • A minimum of 4m2 – 5m2 after weaning

Top Tip:  Grouping same age calves together, in a pen or shed, will also help to reduce disease occurrence and transmission.


Making sure calf housing is adequately ventilated with a constant flow of air is important. This will eliminate the amount of dust, contaminants, and pathogens that calves are exposed to, thereby reducing the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

Adequate ventilation will also keep the environment at an ambient temperature and prevent calves from having to use valuable energy to keep warm. However, we should avoid air flow greater than 0.5 metres per second as this can cause calves to become too cold.


Bedding should be kept as dry as possible, as exposure to high levels of ammonia (<25 parts per million) can irritate calves’ mucous membranes and leave them more vulnerable to respiratory disease.

Straw is an ideal material for calf bedding, especially in the winter, as calves can nestle into it. This helps them to keep warm, meaning they are less susceptible to disease, and more likely to hit target growth rates.

Use the nesting score scale to help determine how much straw to provide your calves with. Aim for a nesting score of three, where calves’ legs are completely covered when lying down.

Nesting score scale

nesting score

Avoid blowing straw or sawdust into calf housing as this creates dust which can irritate the respiratory tract and mucous membranes. This irritation can lead to permanent lung damage and increase the risk of respiratory disease.


It is important to consider the drainage within calf sheds or pens. Ideally, flooring should be pitched at a 5% gradient to allow urine and water to freely drain away. The more moisture that is retained in the building, the more heat will be drawn out and the colder the building will feel.


Calf coats can be used to keep calves warm in colder weather.

Consider using coats on newborn to one week old calves when temperatures are below 12oC. At this temperature and below, young calves will start to use valuable energy to keep warm, preventing growth and development.

For older calves, a farm protocol should be agreed on when coats should be used e.g. after three consecutive nights below 10oC.

Top tip: Make sure calves are dry before putting coats on and that they are cleaned from previous use. Jackets should also be taken off in the morning, once temperatures allow, rather than the afternoon. This is to allow calves to acclimatise to temperatures without the jacket, whilst the temperatures are typically higher than they are at night.


On-farm livestock biosecurity protocols are especially important when it comes to calves to reduce disease incidence and poor performance. Three key areas to consider are:


Make sure farms have established on-farm biosecurity protocols which all staff follow.

Additionally, remember bacteria can be brought into calf housing via boots, hands, and clothes. Boots and hands should therefore be washed and disinfected and, ideally, clothes changed or overalls worn before dealing with calves after being with other cattle.


Feed buckets should be cleaned and disinfected after use to minimise a build-up of bacteria. Here is an example of an equipment cleaning routine:

  • RINSE: Use water at 32-38oC to remove dirt and milk residues. Do not rinse with HOT water. This causes proteins and fats to stick to surfaces, creating a breeding ground for bacteria
  • SOAK: Use hot water 54-57oC mixed with chlorinated alkaline detergent (hypo chloride) for 20-30 minutes each time
  • SCRUB: Use long handled brushes and gloves to remove any remaining residue
  • WASH: The water must be higher than 49oC, to remove the residue scrubbed off
  • RINSE: Use acid sanitiser (peracetic acid) as this lowers the environment pH to prevent remaining bacteria growing
  • DRY: Moist conditions are ideal for bacterial growth, so raise the equipment onto drying racks to allow drainage. Hang stomach tubes vertically to drain out. DON’T stack buckets or leave to dry upside down on concrete floors


Pens should be cleaned, disinfected, and bedded regularly, ideally between changes in calves.

Individual pens should be mucked out and disinfected once a calf has been moved out of it, whilst group pens should be cleaned once the group has moved into new housing.

If calves are staying in their allocated housing for more than a few weeks at a time, pens should be cleaned out regularly and washed/disinfected when calves can be moved to another area.

Steam cleaning calf housing with calves still in can be detrimental to calf health, as the moisture in the shed can make the atmosphere cold and increase the risk of respiratory disease.