The level of protein in the diet of the cow for the last few weeks prior to calving will have a huge influence on both the amount and quality of the colostrum the cow produces.
While feeding soya for the final two to three weeks prior to calving is a great way to increase the overall protein level of the diet and therefore colostrum quality, there are certain situations where the benefit of feeding soya pre-calving should be questioned.
During Monday evening's Animal Health Ireland / Teagasc Calf Care webinar, nutrition specialist with Teagasc Joe Patton outlined the importance of the overall protein level of the dry cow diet on making this decision.
Silage protein levels
He said where silage protein levels are in excess of 12%, there is limited benefit to feeding soya pre-calving to mature cows.
However, he stressed that it may still be of benefit to first- and second-calvers.
Patton said that the real benefit of feeding soya pre-calving is where farms are dealing with poorer-quality silage in the mid-60s for dry matter digestibility (DMD) or where protein levels in the silage are 10% or lower.
He said that this year, silage quality seems to be quite good on the whole, but it is important for every farm to assess their own situation.
Feeding rate and feeding length
When it comes to feeding rate, Patton suggested that 200g to 300g/head/day is typically sufficient to boost colostrum quality and that a period of two to three weeks pre-calving is a long enough time frame.
He said that colostrum production only begins in the final few weeks of pregnancy and, therefore, there is little benefit to feeding prior to this.
Patton suggested that where farmers feel there may be an issue with colostrum quality on their farm, the best thing they can do is to get it tested and make management and nutritional decisions based on the results.