Downer cows were a niggling problem for Simon Jones’ Lincolnshire-based herd. “Milk fever incidence was running at 10% or about 23 cows each year ” he says, of his 230-cow pedigree herd, based at Ulceby, near Alford.
“Enough to warrant some action, particularly when you consider that we also lost, on average, two cows each year with toxic mastitis – in my opinion, the direct result of going down with milk fever.”
So with help from his herd’s nutritionist, Simon set about improving dry cow management, paying particular attention to the ration.
A specific dry cow ration is now mixed in Simon’s tub mixer. This diet comprises 9kg of the milking herd’s TMR – containing wholecrop silage and grass silage, as well as organic soya, beans sugar beet pulp, rolled wheat, and minerals and seaweed – plus 5kg of chopped straw. This is fed throughout the dry period – dry cows are now managed ‘far off’, as well as ‘close up’.
“Prior to this we only managed dry cows during the ‘close up’ period and we didn’t add straw to the ration. Two or three weeks before calving we’d just put two thirds of the milking herd ration in front of them and they just had round bale silage during the far off period,” he explains
As an additional insurance policy, Simon also administers Agrimin 24•7 Calcium boluses – to any cows that he thinks require an extra boost. Each one contains 43g of calcium – the equivalent to nearly four bottles traditionally used to treat milk fever – as calcium chloride (quick release) and calcium sulphate (slow release).
After administration, the coating material dissolves in the rumen and the bolus disintegrates completely within 20 minutes but gives a sustained supply of calcium for a 36-hour period.
“Boluses are so easy to use and, therefore, we can supplement individuals quickly and effectively.
“Our barometer is to feel a cow’s ears – both at calving and as she comes into the parlour for the first time to be milked. If they’re cold then it’s a sign that blood pressure and circulation is not as is should be and milk fever could be a problem. Cows should have nice warm ears – right to the tip.
“We’re lucky that our parlour is designed so that we can walk along the front of the cows, feel their ears and administer boluses as required,” he adds.
Older cows are also given a bolus at calving. “If a cow has had more than three calves then we’ll automatically give her a bolus at calving.”
“We don’t want to see cows ‘wobbling’. I think once there are visual signs of milk fever we’ve missed the boat, so to speak.”
And it’s working. Simon hasn’t seen any milk fever – or ‘wobbly’ cows – since he began using the boluses and says that his ‘belt and braces’ approach is money well spent. Each bolus costs around £5.50.
“We’re nipping any problems in the bud and the toxic mastitis has also disappeared. My thinking was that the cows were under enormous stress with milk fever and this served to lower their ability to fight off infections.
“There are bugs everywhere, no matter how clean the calving box. And if a cow goes down with milk fever, her immunity and her ability to fight off infection goes down too
“Preventing milk fever means that the cows are stronger at and around calving and don’t succumb to infection.”
“I’d certainly recommend that any producer who’s having calcium problems to give the boluses a try – it’s worked for my herd – administering a bolus in the parlour is quick and easy – there are no excuses and so, as a result, there are fewer problems.
For more information about Agrimin 24•7 Calcium boluses click here
Posted on 26/06/2014
by James McCulloch