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Anim Reprod Sci. 2006 Dec;96(3-4):212-26. Epub 2006 Aug 3.

The impact of controlled nutrition during the dry period on dairy cow health, fertility and performance.

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1
Richard Keenan & Co., Borris, Co Carlow, Ireland. david@ruminations.ltd.uk <david@ruminations.ltd.uk>

Abstract

Average dairy herd fertility is declining, with more serves per successful conception, extended calving intervals and increased culling due to failure to rebreed, all adding significant costs to milk production. Genetics, management and nutrition have all contributed to this decline in fertility; the paper focuses primarily on nutritional issues. The extent of body condition loss after calving and its possible impact on fertility is considered, with evidence that this phenomenon is common in many herds irrespective of average milk yields. Body tissue mobilisation after calving increases the flux of non-esterified fatty acids to the liver and pathways of fatty acid metabolism are considered. Particular attention is given to the effects of high plasma non-esterified fatty acid levels on fat accumulation in liver cells and possible impacts on nitrogen and glucose metabolism. Current nutritional practices with early lactation cows which aim to stimulate milk yield and peak milk production but have been shown to exacerbate body condition loss, are reviewed. The paper also considers cow health issues during the peri-parturient period and how these may affect milk yield and fertility. It is concluded that current feeding practices for dry cows, with the provision of increasing amounts of the lactation ration during the Close-up period to accustom the rumen microbes and offset the expected reduction in feed intake as pregnancy reaches term, have largely failed to overcome peri-parturient health problems, excessive body condition loss after calving or declining fertility. From an examination of the energy and protein requirements of dry cows, it is suggested that current Close-up feeding practices can lead to luxury intakes of nutrients that can increase fat deposition in the viscera and the liver. Under such conditions, metabolism of nutrients by the cow may be compromised. In contrast, limited feeding throughout the whole dry period has been shown to prevent many of the problems which can affect peri-parturient cows. A new feeding strategy based on a low energy: high fibre ration (9 MJ metabolisable energy and 130 g crude protein/kg ration dry matter) containing high levels of chopped straw and offered ad libitum as a total mixed ration throughout the whole dry period is proposed. The performance of 32 dairy farms in France where this strategy has been adopted for at least 3 years is provided, with positive outcomes now being obtained by UK and Irish dairy farmers. Independent US research evidence has confirmed some of these benefits whilst limited data on cow fertility is presented. It is hypothesised that luxury feeding during the dry period can cause cows to become insulin resistant leading to an increased risk of type II diabetes. Such cows are likely to have poorer fertility whilst possible mechanisms which increase the risk of peri-parturient health problems are discussed. Further research to understand the mechanisms of these effects is required and is currently ongoing. However the magnitude of the effects noted on an increasing number of dairy farms suggests this approach to feeding the dry cow is capable of bringing real benefits to many dairy herds in terms of fewer health problems, reduced body condition loss and improved fertility.

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