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Coinciding with poor grass growth rates and cold-stressed grass over the last number of weeks, Pica in dairy cows has been evident at farm level, which can have negative effects on the breeding season.

Pica is often defined as a cows’ desire to eat things that do not have any nutritional value. Currently, as we move into the breeding season, concerns are being raised around cows/breeding heifers licking and chewing foreign objects such as stones, plastic, and clay etc. Typically associated with drought conditions and poor P index soils, a cold/dry spell in April can exacerbate the issue.

While there is little research on Pica, it is generally thought there are three main causes: a lack of phosphorus, sodium, or the incidence of rumen acidosis/lack of fibre in the diet. A sodium deficiency tends to occur in grazed grass due to an oversupply of potash, while a phosphorus deficiency is usually caused by a low index of phosphorus in the soil or in rapid/poor grass growth rates. Rumen acidosis is far more prominent in grass-based systems than we think; due to the emphasis on the production of high D-value grass with low fibre levels.

It is important to be vigilant for such behaviours as they pose an additional risk, especially in out farm situations. Ensure toxic plants and foreign inedible objects such as nails, wires and discarded batteries are not within reach and/or fence off any high-risk areas.  

Addressing phosphorus and sodium deficiencies

To address the phosphorus and sodium deficiencies, we recommend supplying salt licks to your cows that contain a high level of phosphorus. Here at Agritech, we supply a Mineral Salt Lick containing 10% Phosphorus, which is ideal for this purpose. This will address all three causes of Pica, allowing the cow to produce extra saliva, and in turn, counteract rumen acidosis at some level.

Having a target to turn cows into covers of 1,400 kg DM/ha will significantly decrease the risk of ruminal acidosis, often coupled with a long fibre offering at the feed barrier (baled silage, high-quality hay/straw).

Need help or advice?

For further information, please contact your local Agritech Sales Advisor.

 

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