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Happy Profitable Cows Eat, Sleep, Ruminate and Repeat

Cows ruminate for around 10 hours per day, this consists of regurgitating feed, rechewing and re-swallowing. It’s important that cow’s ruminate to help break down their food, this stimulates saliva production and improves rumen function by buffering the rumen. Rumination is affected by DMI, physical and social environments.

Cows ruminate between 25-80 minutes per kg of roughage consumed. If rumination is reduced by between 10-20% this can lead to associated problems such as SARA, poorer digestive efficiency, milk loss, milk fat and protein output. It’s important to get your ration correct to keep your cows rumen healthy. Getting your forage tested on a regular basis is also important as forage changes in the clamp throughout the season and keeps walking the cows there the ones that tell you what’s going on.

  1. Increase cow feed push-ups to encourage Dry Matter Intake (DMI) especially if you’re trying to increase forage intake. Increasing 1kg of DMI from forage can increase butterfats and milk production. Try to increase the push-ups to a minimum of six times per day and feed fresh feeds twice a day as this will help to reduce the risk of heating in the trough. Cows like to eat between 30-45 minutes at each sitting and between 8-12 times per day, so on average eating for around 6 hours a day.
  2. Feed space is very important to maximise Dry Matter Intake (DMI) and push-ups can encourage animals back to the feed trough to eat, this especially helps heifers, lame cows and timid cows when space is limited at the feed fence. Feed space required for lactating cows is a minimum of 2ft or 60cm but preferred between 75cm -100cm.
  3. Forage quality, chop length and mixing consistency of TMR are all areas that can cause cows to sort their feed. Sorting can cause inconsistent dung which can lead to decreased DMI, milk loss and stomach upsets. High inclusion rates of cereals which can be sorted due to mixing incorrectly can lead to sub-acute rumen acidosis (SARA). Low DM forage with high lactic acid and low pH can also be challenging to feed when not properly managed.
  4. The environment provided for cows affects lying and eating time. With winters getting milder and wetter this can affect air flow. By reducing moisture levels, pathogens, cobwebs and dust, increasing air flow improves cow health and can increase cow performance.
  5. If cows aren’t lying down, they aren’t producing milk. Cows should be lying down for between 12-14 hours per day. When cows are lying down there is 30% more blood circulating through the udder compared to when she is standing. A rule of thumb is for every hour the cow is lying down she will produce 1 litre more milk.
  6. Watch cows at different times of the day to get an idea of their behaviour. Looking to see if cows can get up and lie down in the cubicle without hitting parts of the frame. Look for any shiny parts to indicate rubbing on the cubicle frame. Are there any restrictions for her to lunge forward? Cubicles should be sized for the largest cows in the herd and remember the purpose of the neck rail is to position the cow as she enters the cubicle and prevent her from standing too far forward and dunging on her bed. Too many cow sheds have the neck rail too far back and the cow ends up standing with her front feet on the bed and back feet in the passageway on concrete and slurry. Adjusting the neck rail forward where needed can improve lying times and herd performance.

By NWF Ruminant Nutritionist, Annabell More.

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