Sept. 12 2022 08:00 AM

Sponsored content created by Jeff Tikofsky, M.S., PAS, Dipl. ACAN, Technical Support Specialist, Purina Animal Nutrition

If you’ve watched a NASCAR race, cars have finely tuned engines that enable optimal performance. Dairy cows are much the same — when fed properly, her engine will perform at maximum capacity to produce milk, maintain body condition and conceive, to restart the cycle.

Feed the best forage

Good forage is critical in a dairy cow’s diet, constituting between 55-65% of the diet. The diet should also include a balance of starch, sugar, fermentable fiber, protein, amino acids and fatty acids.

The two most important numbers in dairy nutrition are dry matter intake (DMI) and animal body weight. Correct body weight is critical for properly defining the animal’s nutrient requirements for production. DMI defines the feed amount to deliver those nutrient requirements.

The perfect ration also depends on the cow’s stage of lactation:

• Fresh cows struggle to consume enough DMI to support milk production and body condition, so they’re always in an energy deficit. Fresh cow diets need to be energy-dense but must include enough physical and fermentable fiber to keep them healthy.

• Cows at peak lactation, approximately 60 days post-freshening, can maximize DMI. Peak lactation cows can generally eat enough fiber, fermentable starch, protein, amino acids and fatty acids for all necessary functions under optimal feeding management.

• After cows are rebred later in lactation, milk production naturally starts decreasing. Some cows start putting on excess body condition at this time. These cows might need a special diet to manage body condition.

• Far-off dry cows need a diet that only meets maintenance requirements, as producers want these cows not to gain or lose weight. This diet typically includes forages, a mineral supplement, and perhaps a protein supplement.

• It’s recommended for cows to switch to a close-up diet three weeks before calving. During these last few weeks of pregnancy, the cow is experiencing significant metabolic changes. With so many objectives to meet, the cow should be kept full, so she is able to consume a lot of feed after freshening. Producers should be careful not to let cows gain or lose weight in these last few weeks. It is important to manage the cow’s calcium status throughout the transition period and maintain optimal liver function to produce glucose for colostrum and milk production.

Feed management makes the difference

These high-performance dairy diets must be fed consistently at the right times. The feeding routine should match the milking schedule and provide enough feed for cattle in each lactation stage, especially during heat or cold stress. It’s also important for feed to be pushed up, so cattle have adequate access to eat as much as they need. Feed refusal should be managed so there is neither too much excess nor empty bunks.

Managing the best feeding program for different points in the lactation cycle can be challenging for dairy producers and the nutritionist as it requires significant financial investment in feed, labor, equipment and facilities. Overcrowded barns also have challenges ensuring that cows get adequate access to feed, water and resting time.

Looking to keep your herd running at its maximum potential? Learn how you can properly fuel your cows at each stage of the race by talking with your Purina representative or visiting

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