“Down cow” is a term used for cows who are suffering from metabolic issues such as Milk Fever. Milk Fever or Hypocalcaemia, is a result of low blood calcium levels not meeting the requirements of the cow post calving. This can lead to down cows, nervous trembling, and appetite suppression, all of which impacts the cows milk production for the remainder of the season. The high risk period for these issues occur between late pregnancy and early lactation AKA the transition phase.
How much is a down cow actually costing you?
A DairyNZ study showed herds with as little as 2% down cows are:
Costing a total of $80.00 per cow for the entire herd
The Canterbury average herd size of 700 cows will cost $56,000
During this transition period, the absorption of Calcium from the cows diet and bones is under extreme hormonal pressure. Calcium can also be limited by the effects of other minerals such as Phosphorous. Calcium has a tight relationship with Phosphorous and needs to supplemented appropriately to to be utilised effectively by the cow.
As calcium is being drawn from the cows stores to prepare for lactation. During the colostrum production period, the cows calcium requirements increases by 400% per day!
To meet the cows Calcium requirements absorption and re-absorption of Calcium to the bones must occur. Limiting the amount of available calcium to the cow during the immediate post calving phase will result in lowered blood Calcium concentration and then Milk Fever.
How do we find the balance?
The transition period two weeks pre-calving can be a stressful time for the cow. With cows often coming back from winter grazing suffering from, low energy levels, lack of minerals, problems from sudden changes in diet and the need to maintain condition.
It is important to shift your Springers mineral status into a negative DCAD (Dietary Anion Cation Difference) state. This is done by providing sufficient anionic salts, balancing the diet with appropriate feed volumes, as feeds contain anions and cations minerals, eg, avoid feeding high volumes of pasture due to high Potassium levels making negative DCAD challenging to achieve. Remember during this phase we are preparing the cow not only for calving but for her lactating season ahead.
Once calved ensure to have Calcium readily available to meet the 400% increase in demand.
The easiest and best option to supplement Springers is through a lead feed supplementation such as DBC’s Get-Set-Cow, however, appropriate dusting, mineral mixes through the wagon can all achieve a negative DCAD if formulated correctly.
The transition phase 2-3 weeks pre-calving will determine the individual cows ability to perform for the rest of the season. It is important to give her the best start by getting her transition right. Thus saving time, energy and money.