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Dry Cow Feeding Management

dairy cows feedingDuring the dry period do you put your cows on the back 40 and forget about them until they calve? Do you think this is the time to skimp on nutrition and take shortcuts?  If you answered yes to either of the questions above it's time to revitalize your dry cow feeding program.

Improve Milk Production

Rather than thinking of the dry period as a lull in the lactation cycle, you need to think of it as the building blocks of the next lactation. Proper care, management and feeding of the dry cow can help improve milk production and the health of the cow during lactation. Conversely, poor dry cow management programs can decrease milk production and cost farmers 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of milk per cow during their next lactation.

The dry period gives a cow a break in lactation and allows the udder to rest and regenerate secretory tissue. It also helps the digestive system recover from the stress of fueling milk production during lactation. Finally, nutrients can be diverted to the fetus as 60% of fetal growth occurs during the dry period.

According to Dr. Brad Oldick, "A dry cow's nutritional needs are generally significantly lower than a lactating cow because she is not using nutrients to maintain milk production." It's important to feed to maintain proper body condition during the dry period. Cows should be turned dry at a body score of 3.5 on a scale of 1-5 (1=very thin, 5=extremely fat). Cows with proper body condition are less likely to have problems calving and have fewer issues entering the lactating herd. Nutritionally induced issues include ketosis, fatty livers and displaced abomasums.

Ideally dry cows are separated from the milking herd to be fed properly. You should then separate your dry cows into two groups, far-off and close-up. The nutritional needs of your cow will change as she gets closer to calving. Far-off cows eat 1.8-2.2% of their body weight; in contrast close-up cows eat 1.5-1.8% of their body weight. Therefore, the close-up diet will need to be more nutrient dense due to this decreased feed intake.

Quality Forage Yields Quality Cattle

dairy cows in a fieldForage is a key component to your dry cow feeding program. "Dry cows need palatable forages that will allow them to consume a diet with a controlled amount of energy," suggests Oldick. "This can include a mixture of high energy forages (like corn silage) fed in limited amounts and low energy grass hays, small grain silages and straw." If available, moderate-energy forage, which meets the cow’s requirements, may be fed as the sole source of forage. All forages need to be low in cations (such as potassium).

To ensure that your dry cow gets all the necessary vitamins, minerals, protein and energy she needs, her rations should always be supplemented. The type of supplementation will be dependent on what forage you feed. "Low energy forages and corn silage are often too low in protein to meet all of the dry cow's protein requirements,"says Oldick. "If the forage base is made up entirely of low energy forages, energy supplementation will be necessary." All dry cow diets can benefit from supplemental sources of vitamins and trace minerals.

Remember a small investment in your dry cows will pay dividends come lactation time. Attention to proper management and nutrition details during the dry period will result in a profitable and productive dairy herd.

Have questions? Contact your local Southern States Livestock Specialist for more details.

Dry Cow Feeds


Southern States Revitalize® 18% Complete (RUM) Medicated 50 lb
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Southern States Revitalize® 18% Complete (RUM) Medicated 50 lb
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