It was hot, approaching 35 degrees, and the dirt and dust was doing it best to clog my nose and mouth. The track was hard and fast and the local crowd was excited and noisy. We powered off the last big drop off and down to the rutted left hander at the bottom, I hung out far off the sidecar for the last lap of the third race that day and we sped past the chequered flag. Sucking air, we pulled up in the pits and the British Team Manager, ran over to confirm our second place overall that day at the Czech Republic round of the European Sidecarcross Championship. The first time a Brit pair had stood on the podium abroad for over 10 years. We were understandably chuffed with our efforts. The culmination of years of effort, but what it showed was that although we were pretty good, there was still room for improvement and ultimately it demonstrated that actually, anyone can achieve something with some applied effort, but being the best requires that little bit extra.
(Note from editor: If you have made it this far in the article, I believe two things to be true. 1. That this did happen! 2. And that Pete will get to the point in a minute so please do persevere!)
It’s safe to say that the 40+ days on the run up to calving and the 30 days post calving are the most important days in a cows year of life. Get this bit right and the rest is basically easy. It’s just like that pre-race or game training and preparation. It sets the scene for success, and as is the case in so many competitive environments, it dictates the longevity of the career/lifetime.
The simplest and cheapest diets are partial DCAD and they work well when you can control the potassium and calcium loading in the diet from forages. However, when you add grazing or grass silages at more than 4kg fresh weight into your dry cow diet, you suddenly add a very variable element to the mix.
Grass based dry cow diets are always more of a challenge now than in the past for two key reasons. Firstly, many cows are performing at a higher level, which means smaller discrepancies have a greater effect and much of our grass has higher potassium levels due to the amount of muck being spread and the lack of nitrogen being used to utilise it. When you have these potential risk factors, eliminating them is the first area of attack and we have two specific systems/ diets to achieve success.
These diets are called Transformer and Dry Cow Xtra. Both are available as nuts or meals and both contain the calcium binder X-Zelit.
Binding calcium means that the cow’s natural homeostatic response is triggered, so that she can mobilise calcium from her own reserves. This is fundamental because her requirement for calcium suddenly elevates to allow the production of colostrum 2-3 days before calving. If she is mobilising calcium naturally then there will be no problem with milk fever. This mode of action is not to be confused with that of full DCAD, which works by creating an un-natural acidic environment in the cow in order to scavenge calcium from her skeleton.
Having done all the original trial work in the south west on X-Zelit over 6 years ago, we are perfectly positioned to both understand and design diets for this product better than anyone else. This knowledge has also allowed us to develop a cheaper alternative diet that contains a lower amount of X-Zelit alongside DCAD ingredients. This is the Transformer product. We have calved nearly 4,000 cows on the diet and have some really exceptional and satisfying data demonstrating as much success as with the whole X-Zelit diet, but at less cost per cow.
Reduced clinical and sub-clinical milk fever, significant reductions in retained cleansings and metritis, increases in pregnancy rates and longer sustained lactation peaks are all potential benefits to be had from these diets. This then, is relatively easy successful dry cow management.
Our diets provide the perfect balanced nutritional base for the rumen to flourish in preparation for milk production. A specially designed mineral that fits with the whole idea of creating a better foundation for cow and calf can also be included in either diet. With elevated levels of organic selenium and vitamin E, it has the ability to aid immune function in both the cow and calf, whilst higher chelated zinc (Availa Zinc from Zinpro) levels aid udder preparation and encourage solid hoof horn growth and keratin teat plug formation at the stressful time around calving.
These products work incredibly well. Effectively the Dry Cow Xtra is the belt and braces diet with the greatest body of data behind it. It will control a high calcium and potassium loading, but Transformer is hot on its heels and as we gain more on farm data is becoming more our weapon of choice. Both are significant step ups from partial DCAD.
So, you want to have the best transitioning cows…. then use the best dry cow advice and products.
There simply are no points for second place.