Dry-cow feeding that yields the best bottom line
At the moment, CAB feeding and the acidification of dry cows is frequently mentioned as a low-cost way to avoid milk fever. CAB feeding is nothing new. It is an old, well-known feeding principle – it has just been brought back into the spotlight. Thus, the concept is by no means innovative, and if it truly was an effective way to prevent milk fever, then one might ask, why does subclinical milk fever continue to be such a widespread problem if the “solution” has been so well-known for many years?
The reason for this lack of success should probably be explained by the fact that this feeding regimen is very difficult to manage and put into practice and it is far from equally effective at preventing subclinical milk fever when compared to X-Zelit feeding. Although it may be “cheaper” compared to X-Zelit, then, yes, with a price of DKK 175 per dry cow, X-Zelit might seem like an expensive item on the feed budget if your sole focus is the cost of the feed. But when farmers invest in a product such as X-Zelit, the cost of the product should not be their only object of focus. The total contribution margin relating to the dry cow and the upcoming calving should be taken into consideration, including the management set-up and the time spent handling dry cows, newly calving cows and their feed. If all these factors are considered, then X-Zelit is NOT a costlier solution – on the contrary. This will be explained by the following examples.
The first is taken from a Danish herd that was using phased feeding and a strict CAB feeding regimen for the close-up herd with a CAB level of -81 meq/kg TS. This was implemented according to all the rules of the game with the administering of anionic salts and additional chalk, as well as the obligatory one or two calcium boluses given to all newly calved cows. The effect of the strategy was followed up by daily pH analyses of urine and other measures. The analysis results were as they should be: between 6 and 6.5. Even so, the newly calved cows suffered from both clinical and subclinical milk fever with retained placenta and metritis. There were also newly calved cows that didn’t begin to eat and who had to be treated with calcium intravenously to survive the calving at all. Even so, this didn’t succeed every time, and far too many cows were either prematurely released or simply died in the herd. In addition, there were also widespread problems with weak calves resulting in all calves being treated with a selenium supplement. After switching to X-Zelit – where the feed was only changed by removing anionic salts and additional chalk administered during the close-up period and administering 500 g of X-Zelit per cow instead – all these treatments were no longer necessary. The savings on medicine costs and various start-up feed supplements alone freed up DKK 165 per calving cow per year. This means that these savings largely cover the total cost for X-Zelit for the farm in this example! Add to that the fact that the above example does not include veterinarian fees and additional working hours spent by employees tending sick animals, nor does it include the positive aspects such as higher milk volumes and fewer dead cows – which is the new reality on the farm.
A comparative field study of two large herds in the US (Theilgaard et al., 2018) studied and compared the effect of the feeding strategies for DCAD and X-Zelit (Figure 1). An analysis of the blood calcium levels of newly calved cows using the DCAD principle found rates of subclinical milk fever of 83% and 88% respectively, whereas the X-Zelit strategy lowered the rate of subclinical milk fever to 20% and 13% (Ca<2.125 mmol/L). The blood calcium level of newly calved cows in the X-Zelit group in both herds was significantly higher (p<0.001) compared to the DCAD groups. Thus, the DCAD feeding was by no means effective enough at preventing the occurrence of subclinical milk fever compared to X-Zelit.
Blood-sample analysis of calcium in newly calved cows within the first 24 hours after calving is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to test the level of subclinical milk fever in one’s own herd. Get the veterinarian to take a few blood samples from newly calved cows whenever he/she is with the herd anyway. This gives an excellent picture of whether the cows have subclinical milk fever – and not least the extent of its prevalence.
Figure 2: The calcium concentration in herds fed an anionic product and X-Zelit (Quadrant Farming Solutions, 2018)
Figure 2 shows the calcium level from a different study (Quadrant Farming Solutions, 2018), in which the X-Zelit and anionic-based strategies were tested against one another. As shown in the graph, the X-Zelit herd had a strikingly higher level of calcium around calving, which directly affects the milk yield, as shown in the graph in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Energy-adjusted milk yield in herds using the anionic and X-Zelit feeding strategies respectively (Quadrant Farming Solutions, 2018).
Stepping back to look at the total costs of the X-Zelit strategy, there are costs to be saved here as well, because using this strategy eliminates the need to take account of the CAB value of the feed ration. This enables alternative feeding strategies (i.e. in terms of both feed components and ratios in the ration) to be chosen and, in turn, eliminates the other feed costs.
In other words, this makes it possible, for instance, to feed a fifth cut of grass silage to dry cows without causing milk fever problems in newly calved cows. An example of this is based on the lessons learnt from another Danish herd where cows are also fed according to the phased-feeding principle, which is a good and, not least, simple dry-cow feeding strategy. A basic ration is fed to all dry cows, and a little extra energy and protein are added and fed to the close-up herd during the last two weeks before calving. If CAB feeding is used in this strategy, two different dry-cow rations need to be made: a harder to digest ration for far-off cows, in which grass, for instance, is a permitted ingredient, and a close-up ration focused on a low CAB value, with higher energy and protein content for cows closest to calving. If, when using CAB feeding, a farmer wants only one basic ration for all dry cows, then the food components and their ratios need to be combined in a manner that helps achieve a low CAB value. This leaves little or no room for including grass silage in the feed, so the supply of protein must come from other feed components. When an X-Zelit feed is used, there is no need to even consider CAB values, and X-Zelit blends in brilliantly with the basic ration for all dry cows. And instead of sourcing most of the protein from expensive feed concentrates, it is possible to get the lion’s share of the protein from less costly, self-produced grass silage. Also the heifers’ ration in the herd concerned was used as a base for the basic ration for dry cows, as additional straw was simply added to fill out the rumens of the dry cows. This also saves extraordinary mixing costs of making a separate dry-cow compound.
X-Zelit’s effective prevention of subclinical milk fever and of its consequences, i.e. retained placenta, metritis and calves weak at birth – together with a higher volume of grass in the ration – makes it possible to make a less costly mineral solution for dry cows. This is naturally contingent on having a herd whose general state of health is in order. In the example above, the far-off cows’ supply of minerals comes from the young stock compound which is fed to heifers. In the close-up period, a dry cow mineral is used as the normal amount given per cow per day, supplemented with healthy doses of vitamin E, selenium and other ingredients.
According to the above description, it is possible and quite simple to cut other feed costs in the amount of DKK 70–100 per dry cow by switching from the CAB feeding principle to feeding with X-Zelit. This makes up roughly half the cost of X-Zelit, approx. DKK 175 per dry cow. By supplementing the CAB feeding with 1–2 calcium boluses after calving (a standard procedure on many farms), the X-Zelit feeding will be just as inexpensive a feed solution as CAB, all things considered. Add to that the financial gains of a far more effective prevention of subclinical milk fever, as the first example illustrated.
There are examples from Sweden of how X-Zelit feeding can simplify the dry-cow feed regimen even more and lower overall feed costs even further, actually below the cost of a CAB feed regimen in Denmark. In Sweden, the law stipulates that cows must be put out to pasture, which is why all dry cows are also released on grassland once they are no longer dry. To prevent dry cows from gorging on fresh grass and absorbing too much energy, many farmers choose to put them in areas with a limited supply of grass and supplement it with straw they can eat. The cows have to get the feed themselves and there is no need to make a feed compound for them in the summer months. In the close-up period, this feeding can easily continue, but in Sweden, the cows are often stalled to better monitor the calvings and then they are fed a ration of primarily grass and straw, supplemented by a little feed supplement to balance the ration, including transition minerals and, of course, X-Zelit. This is a simple, easy way to manage dry cows and not least an inexpensive feeding solution for this group of cows.
These are just a few examples of how it is possible to incorporate both financial considerations and feed-management flexibility into a dry-cow feed regimen with X-Zelit, and it is up to the farmer to balance the specific feeds, volumes and prices for his/her specific herd. Thus, X-Zelit feeding is not a costlier feed solution than CAB, on the contrary. But you have to be able to exploit all the benefits of X-Zelit to get the full financial benefit on your bottom line.
The X-Zelit concept – with one basic dry cow ration, infused with a little extra energy and protein for close-up cows, together with X-Zelit, either as a separate feed or in one combined package in the form of the Easy X Plus feed concentrate from DLG – would be:
- A simple-to-manage solution
- A simpler, more flexible feed solution in terms of feed component options
- A much more effective solution than CAB feeding for preventing subclinical milk fever.
Theilgaard, P., Jakobsen, M., A field study on prevention of subclinical hypocalcemia in dairy cows supplemented synthetic aluminum silicate or anionic salts in late pregnancy. Book of abstract ADSA Annual Meeting 2018, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.
Quadrant Farming Solutions: Effect of feeding X-Zelit during transition on blood macro-minerals, productivity and health events in dairy cattle. 2018, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.