Warning that the consequences of this year’s difficult summer continue to impact dairy cow performance, nutrition expert, Mark Hall, advises that rumen fill is critical.

Speaking at the Total Transition Technical Conference, Mark Hall, Premier Nutrition transition manager, said there is new and compelling evidence that reduced dry cow rumen fill, due to reduced feed intakes, in the summer of 2018 is still knocking back milk production.

He explained that it has been a tough year. “Cows that were hammered by heat stress are now coming through the system and many are down by two to three litres per day.

“The effect of reduced rumen fill during the summer may also be impacting in metabolic disease incidences, ranging from ketosis, acidosis and retained cleansings, to milk fever, displaced abomasums and even mastitis.”

Mark’s evidence is based on a dataset of 68,000 transition cows involved in Premier Nutrition’s Transition Management System (TMS). This is a leading monitoring service through which the impartial assessment of body condition, rumen fill, lameness and hock hygiene, aims to improve transition management, either side of calving.

Preliminary data has revealed that cows with a rumen fill score of two in the dry period produced five litres less milk per day, than a cow scoring three (scale 1-5). The difference was even more pronounced, at over 10 litres per day, when score five cows were compared with those with a score of one.

It was also demonstrated that rumen fill scores this summer were around half a point less than in 2017. This went hand in hand with increased body condition score change, which was on average 0.25 points higher.

Although the importance of keeping the dry cow’s rumen full with a high fibre ration is already well established, this is thought to be the first major study that demonstrates the link with milk production.

Remarking that the scale of the effect was greater than expected, Mark said it warranted further study. However, the associations between rumen fill and metabolic disorders are better established.

An in-depth analysis revealed that cows with rumen fill scores of under three were:

  • 3 times more likely to have acidosis
  • 2.8 times more likely to have retained foetal membranes
  • 2.3 times more likely to have milk fever
  • 4.2 times more likely to have displaced abomasums
  • 1.7 times more likely to have mastitis and
  • 2.4 times more likely to have ‘apparent’ ketosis

“A rumen fill score of five is optimal, but those scoring two or less are classed as problem cows.

“I’d focus on ensuring you can keep the rumen full for 30 days pre- and post-calving. This helps improve efficiency, which has a knock-on effect on fresh performance,” said Mark.

“I’d advise farmers to increase dry matter intake to maximise rumen fill. This can be done easily by optimising neck rail height or ensuring a good chop length to prevent sorting.

Further interrogation of the TMS results – believed to be the largest dataset of its kind – will be undertaken at Nottingham University.  

Mark Hall, Premier Nutrition