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Conception management

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article image Trish Lewis, Consultant Nutritionist

Managing cows through the transition period is a very important stage in the cow-centric cycle. If good conception rates are to be achieved, it is critical to keep the eye on the ball once cows are over four weeks calved. This phase, sometimes called the ‘Conception Management’ phase of the cycle, runs from post transition to embryo implantation (20-50 days after service).

Body condition change

It is well documented that the greater the loss in body condition score (BCS), the lower the conception rate. Studies also show a link between increased BCS loss in early lactation and increased anoestrus (lack of bulling activity) as well as reduced embryo survival. Maximising DMI in early lactation will help minimise negative energy balance and BCS loss, and improve joining results.

For maximum DMI, one must feed high quality forage with lower neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and good palatability; feed enough effective (long) fibre to avoid the risk of rumen acidosis; ensure cows are fully fed – every single day; ensure good availability of clean water; deed only clean (mould and contamination free), palatable feeds; keep cows healthy; and monitor rumen fill scores and respond quickly to a drop in score.

There are several supplements that can improve DMI or energy intake. Live yeast has been found to improve feed efficiency, so cows extract more energy from the same feed. It has also been found to improve days to first ovulation and 200-day pregnancy rate. A proven product such as Yea-Sacc1026 may be suitable for this purpose. 

Protected fats increase the energy density of the diet and some have been found to directly improve fertility through the stimulation of hormone production. Most mycotoxins (microscopic poisons produced by moulds) reduce DMI so where there is any risk of mycotoxin contamination, feeding a proven mycotoxin adsorbent such as Mycosorb A+ can be a wise investment as part of an overall mycotoxin management strategy.

Protein supply

Research shows that feeding diets containing an excess of rumen degradable protein, leading to increased blood urea nitrogen, can reduce conception rate and increase early embryo loss. It is important to ensure the diet has a balanced supply of protein.

Minerals

Calcium and phosphorus directly affect fertility, while magnesium and sodium intake indirectly affects it via metabolic health and DMI. Ensure the diet supplies the required amounts of these minerals in the right ratios. Trace minerals are also important, particularly cobalt, copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. Trials have shown better conception when a proven organic trace mineral supplement is fed in place of inorganic trace minerals. Bioplex High Five could assist here.

Egg quality

The egg that gets released from the ovary in the first round of joining starts to form around calving time. Nutrition, including mineral nutrition, through the whole of early lactation will influence the quality of the egg and the chances of it becoming a viable embryo. It is therefore important to ensure good nutrition right through the conception management period, not just when joining starts.

A leading dairy consultant nutritionist in New Zealand, Trish Lewis recently led a Dairy Advantage Workshop hosted by Alltech Australia for Australian dairy farmers and feedmills in Allansford.

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