TIME4TLC – Managing nematodirus in lambs

TIME4TLC – Managing nematodirus in lambs

Nematodirus is a disease caused by gastrointestinal worms which young lambs ingest through grazing, particularly on pasture grazed by young lambs the previous year. It can cause a high number of deaths within a matter of hours and poor growth rates.

This Q&A guide offers answers to common questions surrounding this disease including how to prevent it, how to quickly spot affected lambs, and how to treat them effectively.

What age are lambs most at risk of nematodirus?

Six to twelve week old lambs are most likely to be affected as they are likely to be eating enough grass that could be infected with the worm larvae to put them at risk.

Younger lambs can also be affected if they’re not receiving enough milk which causes them to start grazing earlier, for example, triplets. Those with a weakened immune system, or already presented with other challenges such as coccidiosis, are also more at risk of succumbing to the disease.

From three months-old, lambs are less likely to be affected when they ingest significant numbers of larvae.

Managing nematodirus in lambs

What time of year is nematodirus an issue?

A sudden cold snap that’s followed by a period of warm weather (10°C or higher) can trigger a mass hatch of eggs into larvae that are ingested by the lambs, causing their likelihood of exposure to significantly increase. Lambs are therefore most at risk of becoming infected between April and June due to the colder nights and warmer days that typically occur.

Although generally more of an issue in spring, unpredictable weather patterns experienced in recent years have caused nematodirus challenges to occur as early as February.

What are the signs of nematodirus?

 Knowing the symptoms of affected lambs will ensure prompt treatment can be administered quickly. These signs include:

  • Sudden onset of profuse diarrhoea
  • Dark or black faeces
  • Dull lambs
  • Lambs that stop sucking
  • Loss of body condition
  • Dehydration

How should I prevent nematodirus?

Prevention is better than cure because nematodirus strikes quickly. Faecal egg counts aren’t an effective preventative method because the damage is caused by larvae that don’t produce eggs, however, knowing the signs and taking the following steps will help to reduce the impact of nematodirus:

  • Where possible avoid grazing lambs in fields that were grazed by lambs the previous spring
  • Nematodirus risk varies year on year so keep an eye on the SCOPS nematodirus forecast to predict the likelihood of your flock being affected and for recommended treatment decisions to help reduce the risk of wormer resistance. This useful tool takes data from weather stations across the UK to provide updates on the disease risk level across the UK based on the predicted hatch-date of eggs into larvae
  • Don’t forget your on-farm or in-store specialist can help provide guidance on how to prevent nematodirus, so make sure you get in touch if required

How should I treat nematodirus?

 An effective parasite treatment strategy should be part of a flock health plan that should be put in place by a vet as a priority, and will help to make sure nematodirus is treated at the right time, using the right product.

Taking the following steps when managing nematodirus will also help to prevent wormer resistance, one of the biggest health risks to UK sheep farming at the moment[1]:

  • If just one lamb shows symptoms of nematodirus, treat every lamb within the group as quickly as possible using a white (1-BZ) drench
  • It’s extremely important to dose for the correct weight of the lamb – follow the product guidance for correct dosing measures
  • Conduct a faecal egg count seven to ten days after the drench is administered to ensure treatment is effective. Ensure all groups of lambs are tested separately because the level of infestation will vary between fields. Interpretation of the FEC is complex, so it’s best to discuss this and any next steps with your vet
  • Severely affected lambs may require further treatment which your vet will be able to advise on
  • Consult your vet if you’re unsure as to how to treat lambs

[1] Layout 1 (xlvets.co.uk)

TIME4RATIONING – Rationing advice for spring calving suckler cows

Rationing advice for spring calving suckler cows

It’s essential that spring calving suckler cows are fed balanced diets to maintain tight calving patterns and improve the chances of calving success, which in turn impact herd profitability.

Working out daily feed requirements will help ensure target body condition scores (BCS) are met to optimise cow health and fertility, as well as improve feed efficiency.

Read on to learn what these target BCS are and how to ensure herd energy and mineral requirements are met.

Target body condition scores

Condition score for spring calvers (QMS 2020)

Condition score for spring calvers

Ideally, suckler cows should be calving and bulling at a target BCS of 2.5 to help reduce the incidence of calving difficulties while promoting positive calving intervals. If cows are overweight at calving the assisted calving rate is more likely to increase. There is evidence to suggest that cows with a BCS of 3.5 typically have an assisted calving rate around double that of cows with a BCS of 2.5.

Aim to get pre-calving suckler cows to the correct condition score during mid-pregnancy by grouping cows with a similar BCS and feeding accordingly. Be aware that increasing the amount of energy in late pregnancy to achieve the target BCS can reduce calf vigour at birth.

Heifers and second time calvers are often the leanest cows on-farm so they, along with shy feeders, will need to be monitored more closely to make sure they reach the target pre-calving condition score.

Energy requirements

Autumn calvers require significantly more energy than spring calving beef cattle to maintain body condition while lactating throughout the colder winter months.

The energy requirements for a spring calver per day are 10% of their body weight plus 10MJ. In addition, dry matter requirements are 2% of total body weight. For example, a 600kg suckler cow would require 70MJ/energy and 12kg of dry matter per day.

It’s worth noting that genetics impact the amount of energy required to achieve target pre-calving condition scores. For example, cows put to a Charolais are likely to require more energy than those put to an Aberdeen Angus because larger breeds typically produce larger calves, meaning the cow will require more energy during pregnancy to sustain calf growth.

Generally, suckler cow energy requirements will be met through feeding forage alone and, unless cows are fed straw or have straw mixed into their diets, it’s advised to avoid feeding large amounts of concentrates.

If cows are fed a straw-based diet, aim to feed a good quality concentrate that contains 18% protein such as Lifetime Rearer or Unigold nuts. Bespoke blends can also be created by your local on-farm specialist, and also consider adding molasses to straw to encourage intakes.

Freshly calved cows will require double the energy needed by a dry cow for milk production and to promote recovery after birth. Energy is the key to ovulation and keeping a tight calving pattern, so ensuring the correct energy levels are fed during early lactation will also promote optimum fertility.

Mineral requirements

Mineral requirements

The mineral requirements of pre-and post-calving suckler cows are often overlooked, yet it is crucial the correct levels are fed to promote cow and calf health.

Consider conducting forage mineral analysis and then taking blood tests at least six weeks before calving to pinpoint any deficiencies in the following minerals:

Essential suckler cow minerals[1]

Mineral Impact Solution
Iodine Cows that are deficient in iodine in the last four to five weeks pre-calving are more likely to have weaker calves. Consider bolusing six weeks pre-calving with a high iodine bolus to be sure requirements are met. For pregnant and lactating stock this is 0.5Mg/kg DM.
Selenium A lack of selenium can cause white muscle disease in calves and retained cleansing in cows. Selenium can be administered via a bolus. For pregnant and lactating stock, the recommended level is 0.1Mg/kg DM.
Magnesium Magnesium deficiencies can increase the risk of staggers or hypomagnesaemia post-calving. Pregnant cows require 0.12% of total ration DM while lactating cows require 0.20% of total ration DM. Consider feeding magnesium rolls to achieve this.

Providing supplementary pre-and post-calving mineral blocks such as Vitalyx super suckler or Megastart pre-calver is another option to make sure suckler cow mineral requirements are met. Megastart contains Safmannan®  which will help to increase the immunoglobulins in the colostrum by around 25% which will help to improve calf health.

If you require further advice, consider discussing historical issues with cow health around calving with a local on-farm specialist.

[1] How to manage minerals in suckler cows pre-calving – Farmers Weekly (fwi.co.uk)

TIME4SILAGING – Top Tips On Making Quality Silage

Top tips on making quality silage

With the cost of bought-in feed soaring, homegrown silage is an obvious choice to reduce reliance on purchased feedstock to meet target milk yields. However, it’s essential that the silage quality is optimised through multiple factors including calculated fertiliser use and considered cut timings. Make sure you’re informed ahead of this silage season by reading our top tips below:

Use soil analysis to inform inputs

To optimise grass growth and quality, it’s recommended that soil nutrient tests are carried out and analysed before adding inputs to silage fields.

Soil pH and lime status affect how well nitrogen is utilised by the sward so the results can be used to make sure the right input is applied at the right time.

Nitrogen application needs to correlate with the timing of the first cut and with subsequent cuts during the season. Aim to apply nitrogen at least 50 days before the expected cutting time to ensure full crop utilisation. It should also be applied at a rate that is adequate for grass growth but not so high that it’s wasted. Bear in mind that grass silage will take up to an average of 2.5kg/ha/day.

Pre-cut grass testing is key

 Due to variations in weather and growing conditions year on year and regionally, it’s important not to base cutting decisions solely on the previous year’s harvest date. Instead, take weekly grass samples, starting around three weeks before the grass is expected to be ready.

Grass sample reports will provide details of the nutrient composition of swards, specifically:

  • Neutral detergent fibre (NDF)
  • Dry matter (DM)
  • Free nitrate levels
  • Protein levels
  • Sugar content

Taking samples at least every week will indicate how the levels change which will inform the optimum cutting time to maximise forage quality and fibre digestibility. Pre-cut testing should continue to be carried out until at least the third cut to determine the cutting time.

Farmers in Cumbria can keep an eye on the weekly grass monitor reports posted on our social media channels for an overview of how the grass is changing throughout the silage season, which will also help to inform decision making.

 On-farm specialists can take samples and send them for laboratory analysis, or they can provide bags for samples to be taken. Check out our video below on how to take a grass sample:

Critical cut timings

Milder weather over winter or in early spring can bring the optimum first cutting date forward and conversely, colder weather conditions can delay it. Decisions on when to cut grass for silage should continue to be guided by pre-cut sampling results.

Silage should be cut when the NDF is between 38% and 42%. A rise in NDF of around 5% above target level can lead to a reduction in metabolisable energy (ME) of up to 1.6 MJ per Kg/DM in the silage.

If grass is cut at the optimal NDF level, energy levels in the silage will typically be higher, which will reduce the amount of bought-in feed required to meet energy requirements for milk production. The correct NDF level is also needed for good rumen function as levels exceeding the target can slow digestion and reduce intakes, impacting milk yields.

Pre-cut grass testing targets[1][2]

Parameter Target
Sugars (%) Minimum 3% in fresh weight (10% in DM)
Free nitrates (DM) >1,000mg/kg in fresh weight
NDF (% DM) 38-42%
DM (%) 18% at mowing

30% for clamping

35-45% for baling

[1] Take control of silage quality by pre-cut grass testing | Lallemand (lallemandanimalnutrition.com)

[2] 4 tips to get timing of grass silage cutting right – Farmers Weekly (fwi.co.uk)

Top tip:  If the free nitrate level is too high then, even if the NDF has reached the right stage for cutting, hold off cutting for a short while to avoid a negative impact on the fermentation process.

Consider the number of cuts

The number of cuts is very specific to each farm and its aim for quality and yield, so a multi-cut system may not be suitable for all farms. Think about the farms’ overall objectives, milk contract, silage plan, field locations and length of ley when considering how many cuts to take.

It can be tricky to get the nutrient balance right throughout the season but keep in mind that silage making and fertiliser programmes should always match the grass varieties on-farm and the desired number of cuts.

If you require assistance before or during silaging this year, contact your local on-farm specialist.

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.

TIME4TLC – To Creep Feed Or Not To Creep Feed?

To Creep Feed Or Not To Creep Feed

As every bite is precious, make the most of it by feeding a balanced diet, tailored to high levels of performance and an optimum rumen environment to get lambs away quickly.

Rising prices of feed, fertiliser and energy are putting pressure on margins. As production costs at farm level continue to rise, growing concerns over raw material availability are putting an even greater focus on maximising the use of homegrown resources, especially forage.

Moving lambs as quick as possible will help save on grass in late summer when fertiliser is too expensive to use in some beef and sheep enterprises.

For producers targeting early markets, it is even more important to achieve high levels of performance to ensure lambs can be drafted as soon as possible, freeing up available resources for other stock.

Feed efficiency is highest in the early stages of life and declines with age. As such, it is vital that lambs are fed a diet to maximise early life growth.

Creep feed provides the energy, DUP and starch needed to efficiently increase growth and promote rumen development.

Other benefits include:

  • Reduced energy demands on the ewe (especially for triplets, ewe lambs and ewes in poor condition)
  • Increased number of lambs slaughtered pre- weaning
  • Improved kill out % for lambs slaughtered before weaning

It is important to remember that lambs may not eat enough forage and are at risk of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and other diseases due to close contact.

Limiting setbacks in performance pre-weaning

  • As can be seen in the figure below, lambs will be consuming 50% of their diet from grass or other hard feed by 6 weeks of age.
  • It is therefore essential to ensure rumen development is optimised to avoid any setbacks post-weaning.
  • This requires very high-quality grass and/or creep feed – maintain swards between 4-8cm to maximise quality.
  • Where high quality grass is short, creep feed can help to fill the gap and maintain early growth from lambs.
  • Feed should be offered from 2-3 weeks of age.
  • Feed conversion (kg feed:kg weight gain) in young lambs is around 3.5:1 vs 7.5:1 post weaning.
  • For a feed priced at £370 this equates to £1.30/kg gain vs £2.78/kg gain for older lambs.
  • Young lambs are still developing their rumen, as a result they cannot fully digest many raw materials, it is essential therefore to select a feed formulated with only quality ingredients.
To creep feed or not to creep feed

Digestion in the rumen

The rumen is a large fermentation chamber packed full of microbes, which:

  • Digest feed to make energy and protein available to the animal
  • Require a low oxygen environment and a pH of 6.0-7.0 to optimise feed digestion

For optimal growth and digestion, the rumen microbes require a balanced source of effective fibre, digestible fibre, starch, sugars, proteins and trace elements

Rumen function

  • In lambs, we aim to promote rumen development early in life to ensure optimal performance later in life…

Choosing a concentrate for creep feeding:

  • 16-17% crude protein as fed
  • <35% cereals (e.g. barley, wheat or oats) using only highly palatable ingredients
  • Quality protein sources (e.g. soya)
  • Digestible fibre source (e.g. sugar beet), keeping fibre levels below 8% as lambs are unable to digest high levels in early life.
  • 5-10% molasses.
  • 2% high calcium/low magnesium minerals to avoid urinary calculi (crystals in urine)

Managing Stress in weaned lambs

Stress is known to suppress the immune system in lambs, and weaning is arguably the most stressful period in the lamb’s life. Additional stressors from a multitude of sources can also compound this problem further.

To creep feed or not to creep feed

Feeding and management of lambs post-weaning

There are several options available when fattening lambs post-weaning, depending on farm resources and time of year (e.g. grass finishing, grass plus concentrates, brassicas / root crops or ad lib concentrate feeding).

Independent of system there are several universal factors to consider:

  • Tailor the diet to lamb type – Lighter lambs require further frame growth and therefore protein. Heavier lambs need more energy and should be fed cereals or other high energy ingredients.
  • Sort by liveweight and bring groups forward in batches to improve efficiency.
  • Spread diet changes over 2-3 weeks to allow the microbes to adapt and reduce the risk of poor rumen function or acidosis.
  • Formulate concentrates to complement the feed and forages available on farm.

Actisaf® in lambs – overall trial results

Summary:

  • Maximise weight gain when the lamb is most efficient.
  • Make changes to the diet slowly.
  • Management of the lamb around weaning is key.
  • Tailor the diet to the type of lamb and based on the availability of on-farm feeds.
  • Feed Actisaf® live yeast for improved rumen development, rumen function, feed utilisation and daily live weight gain.

Carr’s Billington’s EARLYBITE LAMB PELLETS are a top-quality lamb creep feed containing Actisaf® live yeast to stabilise rumen pH, increase feed conversion ratio, promote fibre digestion and ease transition to concentrate feed.

 EARLYBITE high-energy lamb pellets also offer a balanced source of starch and digestible fibre, and contains EarlyBite® to improve palatability and intakes for faster rumen development and better growth efficiency.

To offer EARLYBITE as a creep feed for lambs up to 12 weeks of age, contact 01228 518860 or speak to your local store or advisor.

Time4Transitioning: A guide to improving transition cow comfort

Transition cows typically have lower immune systems compared to that of the milking herd, making them vulnerable to disease such as ketosis, mastitis, metritis and milk fever.

Stress before, at and post-calving can make them even more susceptible to issues, as can factors caused by environmental influences. So, ensuring dairy cow comfort is prioritised by improving housing conditions, will help reduce health issues brought on through stress and set them up for subsequent milk production.

Methods to reduce transition cow stress and improve comfort

Feed space

Ensuring 85cm to 1m of feed trough space per cow (slightly more than the target 75cm in-milk cow space) will help to reduce stress by limiting aggressive interactions between cows.

Adequate feed space will also encourage greater feeding activity to ensure optimum body condition scores and rumen fill are achieved. This is important to prevent metabolic disorders pre-and post-calving and ensure cows are not under or overweight which could cause difficulties at calving.

Water troughs

Dehydration is a significant issue in cows post-calving causing a reduction in feed intakes. Freshly calved cows can drink 20L of water or more.

Aim for 10cm water trough space per cow, with one drinking point per 20 cows. This will reduce competition and stress, enabling adequate intakes. Water troughs should be clean, with a flow rate to encourage drinking.

JCF large double and oval 100-200GL ‘fast-fill’ troughs fill at 75L per minute. Find out more by calling your local Carr’s Billington branch: Store Locator

Bedded areas

Cows need ample space to lie, so aim for 10 to 12m2 of bedded area per cow. It’s also good practice to have extra housing space available to prevent overstocking which can result in competition and stress.

Bedding should be clean and dry, ideally 60cm deep to improve comfort which will encourage rumination. This is important to maintain feed intakes and efficient digestion.

Cubicles should be 1.35m wide and 2m long with 75cm headspace for lunging. If cows are lying half in and half out of cubicles more space may be required.

Ventilation and lighting

Ventilate housing by opening roof ridges and side inlets to a minimum of 20 to 30cm wide to ensure adequate airflow.

Stale, humid air will be present where airflow is poor in the shed so cows may refuse to lie down or eat in these areas. Bacterial growth is also more likely, which will increase the risk of respiratory disease.

Carefully group cows and minimise changes

Cows prefer consistency and routine so achieving a ‘stress free calving line’ is a critical component of maximising the health and productivity of dairy cows.

Group ‘far off’, ‘close up’ and ‘freshly calved’ cows in pens adjacent to one another in the same building. This will minimise the stress of moving cows from group to group through this critical transitional period.

Ideally, cows should also be moved in groups, at least a pair at a time – not individually. Adopt a ‘just in time move’ approach as moving cows into a different pen just at the point of calving is less stressful than moving them within ten to two days.

If space allows, a relatively new idea is to provide a “cuddle box” for the calf outside the calving pen so the cow can see and lick the calf but not defecate on it. This will help to reduce post-calving stress.

Speak to your local specialist for advice on keeping your transition cows as comfortable as possible.

You can also read more about dry cows nutrition to optimise health and milk yield here: Time4Transitioning: A Guide On Dry Cow Nutrition and here: Time 4 Transitioning | Time 4 Winter

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)

 

60

16.7

55

13.6

50

10

45

4

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.

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:

Quantity

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.

Schedule

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.

Temperature

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.

Remember:

  • 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

Quickly

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

Quietly

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.

Time4Formulating: Autumn Dairy Cow Diets

Autumn Dairy cow Diets

You’ll likely already know that balancing nutritional intakes of a dairy herd, while maintaining health and yields, is a priority for all farmers during the autumn.

As cows settle on to winter rations, diet changes need to be gentle and gradual to avoid impacting on rumen stability, health and performance. A gradual change will also have a positive impact on the digestive utilisation of vital homegrown forages, helping keep on top of bought-in feed quantities.

To help you successfully transition into autumn/winter, our experts are here with their practical top tips:

Assess silage stocks

Brought-in feed is the most expensive aspect of milk production (up to 40% of total costs) so maximising the use of home-grown bulk fodder is often the lowest cost option for housed cows. However, it’s important to analyse the quality of this forage on a regular basis to optimise nutrient utilisation and rumen function, and to balance winter feed plans as there can be significant variation as you work back through each cut/clamp.

As a rough guide a 650kg Holstein cow in milk will eat around 20 – 24kg dry matter per day.  Of this around 50% should be forage. The dry matter of the silage will determine how much fresh weight of silage they will eat in a day. This season we have seen a wide range of dry matter in grass silage, from below 20% to over 50%. 

Once the quality of forage is determined using the analysis results, shortfalls in nutritional requirements can be balanced using custom blends or compounds, that suit your farm system and milk contract, and adapted over time as forage quality and fermentation characteristics change.

Additionally, the best or poorest quality forage can be allocated to different cows within the herd, depending on their needs. For example, far off dry cows will need to be fed a maintenance diet that provides minimal but adequate energy. This means they can be fed more mature forages that have a low digestibility value.

Silage quantities should also be assessed to ensure calculations can be made as to how far it will stretch over the housing period to help determine whether forage replacers need to be purchased. 

feed

Consider buffers and yeasts

It takes the microflora in the rumen three weeks to adjust to ration changes, meaning digestion won’t be as efficient as it should be during this time.

Instability in the rumen environment and microbial population can also reduce feed intakes, leading to a decline in performance and butterfat levels.

It’s therefore worth considering incorporating a yeast or rumen conditioner such as TechTonic™ into the ration during this nutritional transition period.

Both will help support rumen function and stability, prevent issues such as subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA), and support better feed conversion efficiency (FCR).

  • Yeasts improve the conditions in the rumen by stimulating the growth and activity of forage digesting bacteria
  • Rumen buffers help to re-establish rumen pH within the ideal range of 5.8-6.2
vitalyx

Support immunity

Sufficient levels of minerals and vitamins in the right balance need to be fed for performance and immunity.

If you choose to use supplementary products, such as licks, blocks or powders when formulating feed rations, it’s important to choose those that have been created to industry standards and comply with Maximum Permitted Levels. This will reduce the risk of excess intakes which in turn can cause health issues.

For example, high intakes of copper can cause chronic copper toxicity leading to a significant reduction in milk production or death. Don’t kill with kindness!

For more information on managing diet changes as cattle are housed, contact your local on-farm specialist or dairy nutritionist.