Autumn calving: Managing freshly calved cows

Autumn-calving cows are now in the period between calving and breeding, so good management of them at this time of the lactation is paramount. A consequence of not properly managing these animals is that they lose excess condition. This is often referred to as ‘milking off their backs’. This happens when feed intakes are insufficient to meet the energy demands of milk production. It means that cows enter a negative energy balance (NEB).


To ensure that cows are able to take in enough feed to limit NEB to a minimum, you need to ensure that they have enough feed space. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) recommends that a minimum of 60cm of barrier feed space and 10cm of water drinker space per cow are needed to maximise feed intake.

You also need to ensure that the shed is not overcrowded; there should be at least one cubicle per cow.

This gives them a chance to feed, drink and lie, therefore reducing their social stress. Not overcrowding the shed will also reduce cases of lameness during the housed period.

Feed quality for freshly calved cows

To ensure that you are maximising performance from freshly calved cows, you need to develop a winter feed plan for your farm. To do this, you need to get your silage analysed to determine its quality and feeding value. The silage you are feeding cows needs to be of the highest quality if you are planning on milking cows from it. The target for a winter/liquid milk production system should be to feed 74%+ dry matter digestibility (DMD) silage.

Typically, every five unit drop in DMD will need 1–1.5kg extra concentrates to compensate for the lower energy level. You must ensure that the feed is in reach/accessible to the cows throughout the day so that adequate intake is facilitated.