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Guide to caring for a pregnant dairy cow

Guide to caring for a pregnant dairy cow

Good pregnant dairy cow care is the difference between healthy cows and calves, and cows that could struggle with birth and conception. 

Navigating the colder months, the increase in cattle feed requirements and transitioning from gestation to lactation are all factors you’ll need to consider in pregnancy cow care. 

This guide will cover the importance of managing their care, tips on how to care for pregnant dairy cows, as well as energy and nutrition requirements during this time period. 


Importance of good care of a pregnant cow

In general, the New Zealand calving season is from August to October. Besides responsible herd care, this transition from winter to spring is the most important part of care for pregnant cows in the herd. 

Colder months in the last trimester require adequate pregnant cow nutrition management. Calving cows are eating for two and need to have the right body condition to ensure optimal recovery after birth. This means supplementing pasture grazing and hay with dairy feed if necessary. 

Good pregnant cow care results in healthy calves, healthy lactation, and continued seasonal growth. 


Guide to caring for a pregnant dairy cow

Caring for your pregnant dairy cow is crucial for healthy calves and good lactation cycles. 

Managing cow lactation cycles and nutrition requirements is all about getting the best outcome for both cow and calf.

Dairy cows gestate for around nine months (the same as humans!). At the beginning of their pregnancy, you will mostly be maintaining their feed requirements. However,

foetuses grow rapidly in the final trimester so pregnant dairy cow feed requirements increase significantly. 

In the colder months, sheltering pregnant cows from the elements means their dietary requirements won’t go up even higher to account for lower body temperatures. 

After calving, you are then caring for a lactating cow. Lactating dairy cow feed needs to be even higher in protein and energy than during her pregnancy. You should take care to get adequate protein to the younger pregnant heifers in the herd, as they are still growing. 

To meet their protein intake in late pregnancy and early lactation, you can use an energy dense cow feed supplement like Sharpes Dairy Feed

You can also get Magnesium added to this cow feed to help vitamin D uptake and for strong bones. 


Metabolisable energy requirement of cows for pregnancy

So how much does a pregnant dairy cow need to eat? 

Pregnant cow nutrition requirements depend on their gestation period. 

The greatest intake will be in the final trimester. The size of the foetus will also increase energy intake. During lactation, the metabolisable energy (ME) varies depending on milk production and the way the milk is made up. 

You can calculate the average metabolisable energy requirement for your pregnant cows using either a table in megajoules of metabolisable energy(MJME) per kg of Dry Matter or using software like the Feedsmart App by Beef Lamb NZ

You can use the pregnant cow feeding charts below as a starting point for energy requirements for gestating cows.




Tips to ensure pregnant cows have adequate nutrition

75-90% of calf foetus growth happens in the last trimester of dairy cow pregnancy. Their nutrition and dietary requirements increase drastically in this time.

Let’s go through three ways that you can ensure they have adequate cattle feed and care. 

  • Evaluate their needs

In the time leading up to calving, you will need to check body scores. Good body condition ensures healthy colostrum that provides calves with the antibodies they need before their own immune system kicks in. With insufficient nutrition you may need probiotics for calves. You will also need to supplement their nutrition as pasture grazing will be insufficient in this transitional period. This requires approximately 20% increase in protein and 16% increase in total feed intake. 

  • Sort cows into groups for feeding

Taking care of pregnant cows sometimes means ensuring that the thinnest cows with lower body condition scores have access to feed first. This will help to improve body condition for the whole herd and help lighter cows get ready for calving. If you can’t separate the heifers and tail end cows from larger ones, you can also spread feed out over a larger area. As well as this, you will also need to prioritise feeding your colostrum cows.  

  • Adjust according to climatic conditions

Pregnant dairy cow feeding requirements also increase when the temperature gets below freezing. To account for nutrition in colder temperatures, i.e. in the crucial months leading up to calving, your nutrition management will also need to take wind and rain cover into consideration to avoid drastic temperature drops that result in the need for more feed. If their body temperature drops enough, but they can’t consume more, you may also consider improving the quality of the feed for higher metabolisable energy. 

  • Take home message

Reading dairy calf maintenance guides is only one part of pregnant cow care. Knowing your herd, their energy requirements, your pastures and which groups within the herd need what, will improve the health and nutrition of your gestating cows even more. 

We don’t know your herd like you do, but we do know cattle feed. Sharpes Dairy Feed is perfect for gestating and lactating cows that need high quality, energy dense food to meet their feed requirements around calving. 

You can see our full range of New Zealand owned dairy cow and calf feed here.



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