Condition is king


While you might be thinking of getting in shape as we head into summer, cows need to avoid weight loss at this time of the year, because we want them to finish up the season in good condition and put milk into the vat.



When a cow is not consuming enough energy to reach her requirements she is classed as being in negative energy balance. First her body will use up carbohydrates stored in her muscles (which happens pretty quickly) and then her body will start using stored body fat. Milk production will drop and if an animal is in negative energy balance for long enough, she will lose significant condition and may even develop fatty liver. Not all negative energy balance is dramatic and obvious either – sometimes it can be more subtle, becoming especially hard to pick-up on if you're seeing your cows every day.


So, what is causing a negative energy balance? Sometimes it's because there is not enough energy offered through the cows' diet. So while they may be getting enough dry matter intake, the total amount of energy may not be high enough in terms of megajoules of metabolisable energy (ME). Sometimes though, there is simply not enough dry matter on offer and other times negative energy balance can be caused by a decrease in dry matter intake caused by an animal health issue such as lameness or acidosis.Post-calving is the most common time we see cows losing significant amounts of weight, as changing from a dry to a lactating cow sees a huge increase in energy demand and it takes time for dry matter intake to pick-up after calving. Weight loss can be seen any time in the herd, however. As we head into summer, pastures will start to go reproductive and stalky, meaning less energy per bite for your cows which may be further hampered by heat stress or facial eczema, so this is a perfect time for negative energy balance to pop-up



A few things you can think about to avoid negative energy balance in your herd:

  • Keep a close eye on pasture quality and quantity. If you pick up an energy deficit early, you can be more proactive with bridging the gap.
  • Look at previous seasons milk curves for your farm. Drops in milk production will tell you where your key problem areas in the past have been.
  • Keep your eye on your milk constituents. Falling protein, fat ratios and falling milk urea may indicate increased pasture maturity.
  • If you do have a deficit in pasture quality or quantity, plug the gap with supplementary feed. Plugging an energy gap will have the benefit of keeping milk going into the vat and will help to keep weight on your herd. There is no one-size-fits-all option, so it's worth chatting to an expert to work through the best option for you.
  • Opt for a rumen modifier such as Bovatec, Rumensin or Rumenox. They improve feed efficiency and free-up energy for the cow.