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Early Lactation Nutrition

Early Lactation Nutrition

Feeding regimes for freshly calved cows have one ultimate goal: Getting your cows back in calf.

To achieve this, we need to:

  • Feed enough energy to limit BCS loss in early lactation
  • Feed a diet with a balanced protein profile
  • Supply the cow with adequate minerals
  • Maintain Rumen Function

 However, fertility performance is not all nutrition related. For good fertility performance we need:

  • An optimum breeding management programme
  • A feeding programme appropriate for your cow
  • A good herd health status
  • An AI programme that breeds for fertility


KEY POINT: Cows that lose less than 0.5 BCS in the 1st 5 weeks after calving ovulate 15 days earlier and reach 1st service 14 days earlier than cows that lose 1 BCS *

Feed enough energy to limit BCS loss in early lactation:

Maximise the intakes of the highest energy forages available to you:

  • The more digestible the forage source the higher its intake potential
  • The more digestible the forage source the higher its energy content









Grass is the most digestible forage available to your cows. This high level of digestibility means that cows will eat more grass than any other forage and that grass has a higher level of energy than any other forage.

The more grass you can get into your cow’s diets the better.  It will support higher levels of production while maximising milk protein % and minimising BCS loss.

However, our approach to grass at this time of the year must be planned. If we over allocate grass now, we will run down our covers too quickly, running out of grass before the start of the 2nd rotation in early April. If we under allocate grass, we won’t get all the farm grazed by early April.  Concentrate feeding levels to accompany grass must be balanced to maximise production, while maintaining enough grazing pressure to eat the grass available to you in your first rotation while grazing paddocks down to 3.5-4cm.

Key Point: Be-wary of over estimating the volumes of grass your cows are consuming.  If we don’t feed the cow enough energy in early lactation she will lose too much BCS in the 1st 8 weeks after calving and herd fertility performance will be disappointing.


Early Warning Sign of Underfeeding

  1. Low Milk Proteins:

In early lactation, herd protein below 3.05/3.1 are of concern.

  1. High butterfat to protein ratio.

This is an indication of ketosis. In early lactation, herd butterfat:protein ratio of above 1.4:1 are of concern.

Eg. Butterfat % of 4.5, to a protein % of 3.15 is a ratio of 1.43:1. The high butterfat% is coming from the body fat the cow is losing.

Consult your Dairygold Area Sales Manager on what your milk constituents are telling you about your cow’s diet.

 Reason for low milk protein/ketosis/underfeeding:

  • Diet is too low in energy; caused by:
  1. Feeding low energy (UFL) feeds i.e poor quality silage or poorly managed grass (with

insufficient concentrates to balance)

  1. Low intake of high energy feeds i.e overestimating grass allowance.



  • Use the latest and best grassland management techniques to maximise grass intakes and grass quality.


Energy supplied by the forage portion of a cows diet

UFL Supplied Concentrate Saving
Grass silage only 9.4
2kg DM grass + 10 kg DM

68 DMD Grass silage

9.8 -0.5kg
6kg DM grass + 6 kg DM

68 DMD Grass silage

10.7 -1.25kg


Replacing even 2kg DM silage with 2kg DM grass is worth doing from a performance standpoint. However, getting a small amount of grass into your cows daily doesn’t mean you can go from feeding 6-8kg of concentrates to feeding 2-3kg of concentrates. 6kg

DM grass daily equates to c. 1.5kg lower concentrate feeding levels for the same level of production.


Concentrates required: Out by day, In by night


Milk Yield (kg)
18 22 26 30 34
6kg DM grass + 6 kg DM 64 DMD Grass silage 4kg 6kg 8kg 10kg 12kg
6kg DM grass + 6 kg DM 68 DMD Grass silage 3.5kg 5.5kg 7.5kg 9.5kg 11.5kg
6kg DM grass + 6 kg DM 72 DMD Grass silage 3kg 5kg 7kg 9kg 11kg

*It is possible to get higher grass intake into cows allowed c.4 hours grazing, but a specific on-off grazing plan has to be implemented.


Concentrates required: Grass + concentrates

If, however, you are getting larger volumes of grass into cows then there can be larger savings in the volume of concentrates needed


Milk Yield (kg)
18 22 24 28 32
12kg DM grass 2kg 4kg 5kg 6.5kg 8.5kg
14kg DM grass 1.5kg* 1.5kg 2.5kg 4.5kg 6.5kg
16kg DM grass 1.5kg* 1.5kg* 1.5kg* 2.5kg 4kg
17kg DM grass 1.5kg* 1.5kg* 1.5kg* 1.5kg 3kg

*grass alone does not meet a cow’s daily requirement for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iodine and selenium. Even though a cow’s energy demand might not require concentrates, feeding 1.5kg of concentrates at grass is the cheapest and most effective method of supplying these minerals.


Feed a diet with a balanced protein profile:

The amount of protein you feed your cows should be in line with her energy intake.  Excess protein compared to energy will get excreted out of the cow as ammonia.  This has performance, financial and environmental implication.  We need to ensure that we are meeting the cows requirements while not over supplying it. A cows milk yield is driven by PDIE (available protein), not crude protein.











Milk protein Yield vs Available protein Intake

Be-wary of raw material that supply a lot of protein but limited amounts of available protein.


Protein Quality Barley Vs Sunflower:

Despite having c.3 times, the crude protein, Sunflower only supplies the same amount of PDI as barley.  Using sunflower in a concentrate to meet a protein level will negatively affect the energy level of the concentrate.

What protein nut should I get?

As a general rule of thumb is:

  • Inside on silage or silage + a few hours grazing – 18%
  • Out by day (6-10 hours grazing)– 15%
  • Out full time – 13%



Feeding a higher protein feed at the same level will improve milk protein %. The protein content of your nut has very little implication on milk protein % and cow body condition score loss. If your milk proteins are low, feeding the same kgs of a higher protein feed will only worsen the situation. YOUR COWS NEED MORE KGS OF FEED.

 Supply the cow with adequate minerals

 On both silage and grass diets cows need mineral supplementation.

Dietary deficiencies of Copper, Selenium and Iodine are linked to:

  • poor fertility,
  • cystic ovaries,
  • anoestrous,
  • irregular or supressed oestrus
  • and early embryonic death


Be wary of feeds with low mineral inclusions.

Minerals and vitamins are expensive to include in compound feed. Our nutritional team at Dairygold Quality Feeds know the importance of the mineral nutrition of your cows to yearly performance. We include our minerals and vitamins pro-rata with our feeding or Cal Mag rates. This means that our vitamin and mineral inclusion are in sync with our feeding levels i.e. if you feed one of our feeds at our prescribed level all your cows vitamin and mineral requirements are being fully met. However, through investigation

we have discovered that other players in the market have vitamin and mineral inclusions out of sync with their recommended feeding levels i.e. if you feed their feeds at the prescribed levels, your cow’s Magnesium requirements will be met but your cows daily allocation of trace elements and vitamins will be low. These feeds can contain as low as 25-50% of the Copper, Zinc, Iodine, Se and Vitamin A, D and E contained in our feeds.




Maintain Rumen Function


Poor rumen function leads to energy, protein, vitamins and minerals being passed out of your cows in their dung and urine.


We need to maximise rumen function by;

  • Not over feeding starch and sugar,
  • Feeding sufficient effective fibre,
  • Feed Yea-sacc,
  • Feed a rumen buffer where required.


KEY POINT: If you’re not making milk, you’re making expensive manure