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Supplements for Your Lactating Cows

All dairy cows are not fueled equally. As a dairy cow moves through her milk production cycle, from dry to lactating and vice versa, her ration needs will change. Though many components of the ration will remain the same, actual composition and supplements will be different.

Energy Needs

One of the biggest differences between dry and lactating cow rations are energy requirements. Dry cows do not need a lot of energy while high producing lactating cows require ample amounts of energy.  High amounts of cereal grains (corn, wheat, barley) are the energy sources in lactating cow diets.  "Lactating diets, if balanced carefully, can contain up to 60% grain sources," suggests Southern States Dairy Nutritionist Dr. Bradley Oldick. "For example, grass hay may be removed and replaced with a mixture of corn grain, corn silage and soybean meal."

High levels of fibrous, low energy feeds prevent dry cows from becoming fat, which contributes to them doing poorly after calving. Dry cow rations are generally high in forage, while limiting high energy corn silage, and low in grain.  Fat cows tend to eat less after calving resulting in weight loss. Significant weight loss can lead to ketosis.

Potassium & Sodium

Potassium and sodium are needed in the lactating cow diet to maintain milk and milk fat production.  Common sources are sodium bicarbonate and potassium carbonate.  On the flip side, these minerals should be limited in dry cows. Potassium contributes to milk fever while sodium contributes to udder edema. Take care in your forage selection for dry cows. Avoid feeding forages fertilized with manure as they have high levels of potassium.

Anionic Supplements

The most prevalent minerals fed to dry cows and not lactating cows are supplemental anions, chloride and sulfur. "These are supplemented in the form of anionic salts or as ions presented in proprietary feed products" explains Oldick. "Anions create a slight metabolic acidosis in the cow that facilitates the mobilization of calcium from calcium stores in the cow."  Mobilization of calcium will help prevent milk fever.  Urine pH can easily be monitored to ensure your anionic program is working.

Additional Supplementation Considerations

Both lactating and dry cows require vitamin supplementation (Vitamins A, D and E), trace minerals (zinc, manganese, copper, selenium, iodine), and quality protein sources. Don't forget milk is 87% water; therefore your cows must always have clean water available to them. Not sure if your rations are designed to make your cows as efficient and productive as possible? Visit your local Southern States to discuss how to enhance your nutrition program.

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