Recommendation on optimising suckler cow fertility with higher diet


The time after calving is a time of major metabolic changes for a cow. To ensure that their nutritional needs are met over the next several months, it is critical to maintain a 365 day calving interval.

Recent climatic conditions have resulted in great variability in spring weather. The sharp fluctuations between warm and cold temperatures make planning and managing the transition from indoor feed rations to outdoor grazing areas difficult.

“The very dry weather combined with the cold night temperatures in April really hampered grass growth and there was a grass shortage for many farmers in terms of voter turnout.

“If cows lose their physical condition in the run-up to the service, this can have a significant impact on fertility,” says Dr. Tim Potter, Senior Clinical Director at Westpoint Farm Vets, part of the VetPartners group.

See also: 3 things you could do to make livestock more profitable

In the following, Dr. Potter shares his advice on suckler cow nutrition management upfront and during duty time.

1. Prioritize endangered cows

Certain cows are more likely to have difficulty returning to the calf and these should be prioritized for possible management interventions.

Cows at risk include those who:

  • Were too fat or too thin when calving
  • Had a difficult labor or a caesarean section
  • Experienced metabolic diseases such as hypocalcemia
  • Were affected by conditions such as withheld cleanings and metritis.

Cows that raise twins should also be selected because of the additional need to raise two fetuses and milk production requirements have increased.

While isolated problems are always to be expected, it is worth identifying the root cause now if problems keep coming up with calving.

There could well be a simple solution, and a change in management or routine could help overcome the problems for the next year.

2. Monitor grass quality and availability

Nutrient uptake is usually easier to manage when cows are inside. The feed is routinely analyzed and appropriate rations are formulated accordingly.

To avoid a negative energy balance, it is important to ensure a smooth transition between winter forage rations and pasture grass.

Test the quality of fresh grass and use a plate gauge to monitor the available grass stand.

Use a plate gauge to monitor grass availability. © Tim Scrivener

If there is not enough grass on the grazing platform, additional feeding should be considered to prevent deterioration in body condition.

Ideally, cows should have a body condition score of 2.5 to 3 and be on an increasing nutritional level at the job site.

While additional feeding may not be required for the entire herd, endangered cows should be considered, with the option to manage them separately.

The clock starts ticking as soon as the cow calves and if she does not return to the calf within the three-month window it will increase the calving interval and reduce profitability.

3. Look at the micro-nutrition

Poor micronutrient status can be common, but it varies widely between herds and is often due to localized pastures with different soil types between regions and even between fields.

If you’ve had fertility problems and longer calving intervals in the past, or noticed any signs or symptoms that might indicate a deficiency, it’s worth investigating.

The first point of contact should be to find out what micronutrients are in the grass or feed.

This can vary significantly, highlighting a specific trace element or vitamin deficiency.

Then work with your veterinarian to rule out other causes of the disease, cows not returning to cyclicality, higher infection rates during calving, or the production of weaker calves.

If there are no obvious causes, consider certain diagnostic tests, such as blood samples or liver biopsies, to test for trace element deficiencies.

Which micronutrients are important for fertility and how should they be supplemented?

Tom Butler, group technical lead at Brinicombe, says micronutrients are vital to fertility, even though they make up a small part of the livestock diet.

He says certain are key:

  • Iodine is especially important for hormone production before and after calving, which is key to supporting fertility and early fetal growth. Deficiency of iodine during pregnancy can lead to poor calf strength during childbirth.
  • Trace elements such as manganese, zinc and copper also support fertility and promote skeletal development.
  • Other trace elements work with vitamins to improve breeding performance. For example, selenium supports a healthy immune system and works as an antioxidant in conjunction with vitamin E. Cobalt is important for the production of milk and vitamin B12, as well as for improving conception and growth rates.
  • Including vitamin A in diets can also help increase the rate of conception.
  • Vitamin D3 supports the absorption of calcium and phosphorus.

There are a variety of options when it comes to mineral supplementation, and the best option will depend somewhat on your system.

Cattle can be supplemented in many ways, including adding minerals in mixed total rations and providing free access mineral licks. Boluses are a popular option because of their reliability and durability.

“While the animal is busy administering the boluses, no additional manpower is required beyond this point,” says Butler. “And many farmers want to be able to rely on the need for trace elements and vitamins being met for the duration of the grazing season.”

Dr. Potter agrees that boluses are useful for delivering a controlled amount of nutrients to individual animals, much like giving an injection.

“Bolusing can be integrated into management plans. When the micronutrients are slowly released directly into the reticulum, you can be sure they are getting the correct daily levels, ”he says.

“However, there are different boluses on the market that offer different amounts of micronutrients. Talk to your veterinarian about which ones are best for your herd.”