The efficiency of grass-based systems is hugely influenced by the calving pattern on farms, and subsequently requires excellent reproductive performance in a short-breeding season. Therefore, it is extremely important to navigate through the transition period of a spring calving herd, with nutrition being a top priority.

In the weeks post-calving, cows will produce more milk than their feed intake can provide, resulting in Body Condition Score (BCS) loss due to Negative Energy Balance (NEB). A cow typically reaches peak milk output 6-8 weeks post-calving but will only reach peak dry matter intake 10-12 weeks post-calving. The success of the breeding season is mainly dictated by the severity and duration of this period of NEB during the weeks post-calving.

When prolonged, NEB will firstly appear in the form of low milk protein % in the short term and in the more long-term have detrimental consequences on fertility during the breeding season. The overall objective is to have calved down the cow at a BCS of 3.25 and maintain an average herd BCS of 3.0 (with a range of 2.75-3.25) at the start of breeding to achieve optimal fertility. Keeping body condition loss to less than 0.5 BCS between calving and breeding has proven to significantly increase the likelihood of conception to first service, with cows that lost <0.5 body condition score between calving and breeding typically shown to ovulate 15 days sooner, than cows that lost ≥1 BCS.

Transition cow management

In very practical terms, navigating the transition period means bridging the energy gap between the cow’s output relative to her intake. Forage quality and the proportion of high-quality grass in the diet will be the main dictating factors here. After this, most of the energy deficit will have to be filled with concentrates in the parlour, with milk output and silage analysis dictating feeding rates this spring.


Need help and advice?

For more information on the management of the transition cow, contact your local Agritech Sales Advisor.


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