Feeding for fertility is key topic

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United Feeds’ nutritionist Bobby Irwin has confirmed the very strong link that exists between cow nutrition and fertility.

He addressed this subject at one of two recent workshops co-hosted by United Feeds and Dale Farm’s Dairy Herd Management team on the Ballymena farm of John and Craig Barkley.

Robert Hanna, Rasharkin; Bobby Irwin, United Feeds; Robin McCloy,'Cullybackey

Robert Hanna, Rasharkin; Bobby Irwin, United Feeds; Robin McCloy,’Cullybackey


The topic for both events which attracted more than one hundred farmers was “Focus on Fertility”. The venue for the second workshop was the Omagh farm of Kenneth Alcorn and sons Matthew and James where United Feeds’ Business Development Adviser Andrew Fyffe presented to the group.

The Barkley’s milk 120 cows, using two robots with the herd currently averaging more than 12,000L at 4.04 butterfat and 3.24% protein.

The Alcorn’s milk 130 cows with an average yield of 8830 at 4.45 butterfat and 3.50 protein.

Both herds have exceptionally good attention to detail when it comes to fertility and both work closely with their respective nutrition advisers at United Feeds.

Host Farmers John & Craig Barkley with Sam Watson, United Feeds and'David Patterson, Dairy Herd Management

Host Farmers John & Craig Barkley with Sam Watson, United Feeds and’David Patterson, Dairy Herd Management


According to the United Feeds representatives at each event, Body Condition Score (BCS) is the overarching driver of cow fertility.

They said: “Cows should be dried off with a BCS of between 2.75 and 3.0. They should be maintained at this level of condition up to calving. Fat cover can be tweaked to some extent during the far-off dry period. However, the issue should be really addressed during late lactation.

“Research has shown that over fat cows at calving will have a reduced appetite. They are more prone to ketosis and fatty liver disease. Overly thin cows will produce less milk after calving. They will also be more difficult to get back in calf.”

The problems caused by Milk Fever was specifically flagged-up during the presentations:

“This is a gateway disease that can lead to the development of multiple metabolic disorders post-calving. All of these conditions will have a direct impact on subsequent fertility.

“Milk Fever can be best avoided by feeding fibrous silages during the dry period, which are low in potash. Feeding low DCAD rations during the dry period is critically important in this regard. Adding an anionic salt, such as magnesium chloride, to these diets will help reduce DCAD values.”

Turning to the rations fed to lactating cows, Bobby and Andrew said that a 16% crude protein level in the diet is optimal in early lactation, when it comes to driving both milk output and fertility.

They continued: “High levels of dietary protein can lead to the build-up of excessive ammonia in the blood. In turn, this can lead to enhanced embryo mortality.

“Cows fed with lower protein diets have a flatter lactation curve thereby reducing the time in negative energy. However, they will still produce the same amount of milk expected from them across the entire lactation.”

The speakers also confirmed that the cow’s immune system has a key role to play in determining her fertility levels.

“Trace element nutrition plays a crucial role in boosting the cow’s immune system.

“United Feeds’ HerdCare package makes copper, zinc and manganese available in a totally organic form and this approach to mineral nutrition is unique to the feed compounder in Northern Ireland. This means that these trace elements are more readily absorbed and utilised by the cow.

“HerdCare also contains high levels of selenium, in the form of Sel-Plex, and Vitamin E which is further boosted by the inclusion of ProvioxTM.

“Numerous research trials have confirmed the role of Sel-Plex in reducing the level of retained cleanings and metritis, post calving.

“The primary antioxidant in the body is vitamin E. It is supported and regenerated/recycled in the body by other antioxidant compounds. ProvioxTM is rich in compounds with strong antioxidative properties, designed to counteract free radicals and reduce oxidative stress.”

Members of the United Feeds’ technical team will be available on the company’s stand at the RUAS Winter Fair to discuss how best to get autumn and winter calving cows back into calf over the coming weeks. Alternatively, you can find out more about United Feeds nutritional solutions by visiting www.UFeeds.com or contacting your local United Feeds representative.

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