Plan dry cow rations carefully to avoid overfeeding

Published 1 September 09

Producers often pay great attention to milking rations but forget to plan dry cow rations just as carefully, says Hugh Black, extension officer at DairyCo. "It is just as important to balance requirements for dry cow rationing as for milking rations - and now is a good time to appraise your feeding plans."

As a rough guide daily dry matter intake in the dry cow should be 2% of bodyweight, with energy content at 15% of bodyweight, plus 10 MJ, says Mr Black. "So a 600kg cow potentially needs a dry matter intake of 12kg/day and an energy requirement of 100 MJ/day. She would therefore need a ration average of less than nine MJ/kg DM - and it is very important to balance the ration as many feeds easily exceed this level."

The danger of overfeeding is that insulin levels rise and the cow stores the excess energy as fat. If this continues every day, insulin levels rise over time and the body responds less and less, as in humans, explains Mr Black. "This insulin resistance affects energy metabolism well into the lactation - reducing the cow's energy intake after calving, which results in sharp weight loss, and has knock-on impacts on milk yields and fertility."

Fat cows are also likely to suffer from Ketosis because of their reduced feed intake after calving, he adds. "Ketosis occurs when normal cycles in the body become overloaded and ketones accumulate in the blood to toxic levels. This is due to a severe negative energy balance caused when the cow is using more energy to produce milk than it is consuming. Correct energy inputs during the dry period to maximise dry matter intakes after calving will help to mitigate this problem."

It is also essential not to underfeed the dry cow, he adds. "Underfeeding can happen when using poorer quality forages with low intake potential. This will lead to excessive fat mobilisation, which can go un-noticed. Primarily it is the internal fat deposits that get used up first, so it is important to handle the cows and monitor their condition throughout the dry period."

DairyCo will be holding events on dry cow management in the coming months as part of its feeding+ programme, visit to find events near you.  The full feeding+ programme can be ordered by calling the DairyCo publications line on: 02476 478695.


Date  1 September 2009



For further information:

N:        Helen Bond

T:        02476 478696



Notes for Editors:


DairyCo is a division of the statutory levy board, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).


DairyCo's current focus is on improving the profitability of dairy farming by focusing on four specific areas:

  • Provision of high quality market information to help farmers and their representatives make the most of dairy markets and opportunities.
  • Helping dairy farmers increase their profits while meeting regulatory and environmental requirements - through the provision of world class research programmes and practical on-farm tools and services
  • Helping promote the positive perception of dairy farming with the general public.
  • The development of DairyCo activities towards a self-sustaining model.