NOT knowing how much and what to feed a cow to keep the rumen healthy can lead to a number of problems affecting both individual animals and the herd as a whole.
At the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Annual Conference held recently, cattle veterinarian Dr Elizabeth Bramley spoke about optimal cattle nutrition and said there was more to feeding than you might think.
“In the veterinary world our decisions are guided by science and fortunately there is adequate science available on the nutritional needs of cattle to improve their health and welfare and productivity,” she said.
“We know that metabolic diseases such as ketosis and acidosis can result from poor feeding choices and environmental stressors.
“The key is for farmers to work with their veterinarian who is in the ideal position to advise and treat not only affected individual animals but also the nutritional cause behind the problem.”
There are three important points of assessment of a beef or dairy cow ration:
- Quantity of food (dry matter)
One of the most common nutritional problems with cattle on smaller farms is a shortage of feed. Many people don’t understand how much a cow will consume or understand how long grass needs (minimum 2-3cm) to be for cows to successfully graze. Poor quality pasture is also very slowly digested.
- Whether the ration is being balanced correctly
A ration must meet the requirements for energy, protein, fibre, minerals and trace minerals. Energy and protein malnutrition in late pregnancy or lactating cows is common during winter or long dry spells. This may lead to cows producing undersized calves prematurely.
- Whether it is being delivered appropriately
When owners are providing supplementary feeding through good quality forage or concentrate, it’s important to think about how a ration is delivered. This includes methods of pasture allocation, the time and method of delivery, grain processing as both over and under processing can cause rumen disruption, adequate provision and access to water and lastly staff changes and ensuring all staff follow the feeding protocols.
“It’s really important for the health and welfare of cows as well as their productivity that farmers seek veterinary advice about the feeding requirements of each animal,” Dr Bramley said.
“This ensures they are receiving the appropriate nutrients, which vary based on a range of factors including what the animals are used for and what stage they are at (growing, pregnant or lactating).”