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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                     November 2003

Hi Folks,

            With the feed changes happening now due to the new harvest, it seems like a good moment to talk the consequences of abrupt changes - and that is usually scours (diarrhea). Why is this often seen with abrupt feed changes?  The reason is basically due to the rumen bugs not being given enough time to gradually change to fit the new diet. There can be massive die off of the present bugs with not enough of the other ones ‘up and running’ to take up the process of digestion in a short period of time. It takes about 2 weeks for the rumen bugs to adapt to a new feed ration. That’s right - 2 weeks. No farmer that I know of ever changes over to a new feed that gradually. However, if you want the least disturbance to the routine that is what you should do. It seems like folks will take the chance, however. (As one farmer said to me a few years ago - farming is the only legalized form of gambling in Pennsylvania.) That is why I often ask if there has been a feed change when there are some cows off-feed, because this is often the case a few cows are off-feed and also have the scours.  

            The scours usually are a watery type, very profuse with undigested feed in it. The most susceptible cows are the ones under the most stress - fresh ones and those at peak lactation. If the animal is not dehydrated, treatment is rather simple - heavy on the probiotics and feed only dry hay, especially long stem horse type hay. As a matter of fact, one of my tests to see what treatment we need for a slow to eat, scouring cow is to simply put some high quality dry hay in front of her and see if she will eat. If she digs into it as any normal cow would, that’s the treatment. Do not feed corn silage to scouring cows, it is like adding fuel to the fire. If you for some reason absolutely cannot feed dry hay, then top quality grass silage can substitute, as long as the corn silage is kept away. I usually recommend this type of ‘feed treatment’ for a few days until the manure becomes more regular. Then, slowly begin to add in the other components. I find that cows normally fed TMR really love extra dry hay thrown to them, even if they are pretty much ‘on feed’. I think this may be due to the particle length as-fed to the cows being too short in many TMR fed barns and it is the cows’ instinctive need for fiber that makes them really go for real hay when offered. Many of my farmers know that one of my main treatments any time a cow is somewhat off-feed or scouring is to feed that particular cow as much hay as she wants for at least a few days. Whole herds probably would have healthier rumens if more hay was fed in general. Healthy rumens make for healthy cows.  

            Dry hay cannot be beat, in terms of a cow’s rumen. The rumen must have a good fiber mat in order to carry out its basic function of rumination. If it doesn’t, all kinds of things go wrong in the rumen and consequently the rest of the digestive tract, which of course affects the whole cow. Actually this statement applies both to cows scouring due to abrupt feed changes as well as to cows being fed high corn silage and grain diets. One of the only things that can prevent or help correct sub-acute rumen acidosis is dry hay. You can push as much bicarb as you want to the herd, but that is only a band-aid as far as keeping the pH of the rumen from becoming too acidic and having the ‘good’ rumen bugs from being killed off. Feeding high quality fiber feeds the good rumen bugs. Cows seen chewing their cud often have more saliva, which has bicarb in it, which buffers against rumen acidosis - the scourge of modern dairy cows. Everyone knows that cows chewing cud is a good thing, and this is exactly why. Fiber also mechanically slows the rate of passage of feed stuffs through the rumen, thus allowing the cow to create more volatile fatty acids, which can be absorbed by the rumen wall and help to make butterfat. That is why if you have a butterfat inversion, you have real trouble going on in your cows’ rumens.  

            The moral of the story is that when you go through a feed change, no matter how abrupt, feed a bunch of extra dry hay to the cows for about a week, until the rumen bugs have had time to adapt to the new diet. A ton of good dry hay is an insurance policy for your cows’ health.  

Leroy Miller has certified organic animals for sale: 9 youngstock (3 months to a year), 13 yearlings - springers; and 12 Holstein cows, any stage of lactation (you pick). Call him at 717-768-7613, ext 2.

 

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:
www.bovinityhealth.com

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