Close-up Dry Cow Nutrition and Management
Close-up Dry Cow Nutrition and Management

Dr. Ronald L. Boman
USU Extension Dairy Nutritionist

    At the annual Utah Dairy Seminars held in December, 1999, we were privileged to have Dr. Randy Shaver from the University of Wisconsin as our featured speaker. He spoke at Richfield, Provo, and Logan and his presentations were sent by satellite to Star Valley, Wyoming.

    While traveling with Randy for four days, I was impressed with him as a person and also with his �take home� message. Since I agree with what he said (I have been preaching the same sermon) let me highlight some of Dr. Shaver�s main points that deal with close-up dry cow nutrition and management.


    It is extremely important to be able to house and manage (group) the close-up dry cows in a separate pen or area away from far-off dry cows and lactating cows. This area should be kept clean and cows made comfortable. Special care should be given to provide adequate bunk (manger) space so cows are able to eat freely. Intake of feed declines anyway just prior to calving and we in no way want to restrict it by not providing adequate bunk space.


    One of the main reasons for grouping dry cows separately is to be able to control their nutrition. Dr. Shaver made the following points:

1.    Low Potassium Forage - Locate (test) forages that are low in Potassium (K+) to help prevent milk fever and hypocalcemia. These forages will most likely come from fields that haven�t received manure applications. Corn silage is normally lower in Potassium than alfalfa, but we still need to have them tested to be sure. Also don�t include buffers in the dry cow diet. The sodium (Na+) has the same effect as Potassium (K+) in prediposing cows to hypocalcemia. If we can prevent cows from becoming hypocalcemic, we can dramatically reduce the incidences of not only milk fever, but also mastitis, retained placentas and displaced abomasums.

2.    Feed Starch Three Weeks Prior to Calving - Starch from grains like corn and barley (8 to 10 lbs/cow/day) stimulates the rumen papillae (finger-like projections) to lengthen and enlarge. This greatly increases the surface area and nutrient absorptive capacity of the rumen epithelium so that after calving the cows can more easily handle the higher energy lactation ration. ALSO, the rumen microorganisms need this 3-week period of grain feeding (along with free choice forages) to adapt to the ration of the milking cow.

3.    Encourage Eating (Feed Intake) Prior to and After Calving - As mentioned earlier, adequate manger space is important, but we also need to make sure that there is adequate fresh feed and water available at all times to encourage feed consumption. Randy did not discourage the use of such things as �yeast culture� to stimulate appetite. In fact, we included � lb/day of yeast culture 3-weeks prior to calving in a field trial and most of the fresh cow problems were eliminated.

    Space limitations prevent me from expanding further on this topic. As I visit dairy farms in Utah and surrounding states, I see that a majority of nutrition related problems originate with poor close-up dry cow management. I trust that what I have summarized above will spark your thinking and motivate you to improve in these areas. If I can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact me at (435) 797-2163 or ©