Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages! 

This week’s Book of the Week feature is A Holistic Vet’s Prescription for a Healthy Herdby Richard “Doc” Holliday and Jim Helfter.

From Chapter 7: A Hundred and One Nutritionists

A total mixed ration (TMR) is a standard feeding strategy for most large dairies and many small ones. A TMR purports to provide all the nutritional requirements for each cow in the group.

A TMR has many advantages for dairymen. Grouping the cows according to common characteristics allows the dairyman or his nutritionist to formulate a daily diet for the average needs of each cow in the group. With a TMR you can quickly and easily reformulate the ration to use different commodities or ingredients as price and availability change.

A TMR is easier to feed since everything is rolled up into a neat, one-bag-fits-all package. Dairymen and nutritionists like the precision of a computer printout and the control it gives them over the animal’s diet. All of these advantages affect the convenience and control of the managers, but is a TMR really the best way to feed dairy cows?

Remembering that you don’t get something for nothing, what is the negative payback for the convenience of using a TMR? Unfortunately, a TMR is a good way to push far more protein than is healthy for ruminants, especially when they do not have the opportunity to adjust their need for fiber in their diet. Bad feet, reproductive problems, and lowered longevity seem to go hand-in-hand with the push for high production at any cost.

Perhaps the most meaningful word [in the paragraphs above] is “average.” TMRs are designed to fit the average cow, which means that if a cow does not exactly match the average she will either have certain nutrient excesses or deficiencies to deal with. There is so much individual variation in nutritional needs that it is doubtful we could adjust the TMR to accommodate most of the group.

Although some variation is acceptable, in a large group it is theoretically possible that no animal would receive its exact needs. Reducing the size of the group does help, as it tightens up the spread of individual variation. If we carried the “smaller group is better” idea to its extreme we would need a ration for each individual cow, and to go even further over the edge we might need one nutritionist for each cow. How cool would that be?

Obviously, that’s impracticable, if not impossible, but it does raise an interesting question. What if we could provide a basic feeding strategy that did address the needs of each individual cow for a balance of all nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water? All animals have the intrinsic ability to balance their nutritional needs if appropriate choices are provided.

Here are some steps to build on our nutritional by taking advantage of animals’ nutritional wisdom.

  • Use a TMR or a modified TMR to provide basic nutrition. Remember that a cow is a ruminant, so keep the grain-to-roughage ratio as low as possible.
  • Provide a separate free-choice source of fiber.
  • Provide a free-choice source of individual minerals and trace minerals.
  • Feed a high-quality prebiotic/probiotic.

There are several advantages to all this. For one, the animals are healthier and stay in the herd longer. Providing a free-choice source of minerals ensures that each animal has the chance to balance their mineral needs. Trace minerals are the basis for enzymes, which are the spark plugs that enable all metabolic processes.

Balance is important—excess can be as damaging as deficiencies. Feeding probiotics increases the digestibility and utilization of all feedstuffs. You get more nutrition from your homegrown feeds and need to buy fewer off-the-farm commodities. This equals more profit.

The bottom line is this: You don’t need a hundred and one nutritionists if you allow your cows to be part of your nutritional management team.

Hey, Doc, Waddaya Got to Care for the Cow and Calf at Calving?

baby cow care

Calving is a critical time for both the cow and the calf. For the two or three weeks immediately prior to freshening and for about the same period afterward, a dairy cow is in a state of increased stress and lower immune function. Problems during this critical time can have adverse effects on health and production that may last throughout the entire lactation. By the same token, anything that you do here to bolster the health and vitality of the cow and calf will certainly benefit the cow during her lactation, and may benefit the calf during its whole life.

We tend to focus on the immediate health and productivity of the cow and her current offspring. We should not overlook the fact that the egg that will produce a calf next year begins its maturation process during this period of immune system suppression. The future health of this calf is greatly affected, for better or for worse, by anything that affects the cow at this critical time. Nutritional balance and mineral balance are extremely important. Providing free-choice individual minerals and trace minerals will help provide this balance.

Allow the cow to calve in a well-bedded, comfortable, private, super-clean maternity pen. Immediately after calving, provide her with ten gallons of warm water with some added electrolytes or salt. This helps her to expel the placenta. Adding fill to the rumen helps to avoid displaced abomasums (the fourth stomach). Remove the placenta as soon as it is expelled. Do not let the cow eat the placenta. This may have been a natural act in the wild to clean up the calving area to avoid predators, but in the modern dairy, a cow eating the placenta may cause digestive problems, lowered peak production, and even death if the undigested membranes lead to a fatal impaction.

Let the cow lick and clean off the calf. Do not let the calf nurse. This interrupts the transfer of disease organisms and parasites to the newborn. Milk out the colostrum and get the calf to take at least a gallon in the first six hours of life. As soon as the calf is dry, remove it to a properly constructed and installed hutch (limited isolation). In a Utah study a few years ago, first-calf heifers raised in a hutch outperformed their group-raised half sisters in the same herd by two thousand pounds of extra milk.

Saturate the navel with iodine as soon as possible after birth. Administer a natural immune stimulant such as colostrum whey immune products.

The gut is the first line of defense against many infections. It has been estimated that 60 percent or more of the immune protective response takes place in the gut. It is important to provide a source of beneficial microorganisms for the first couple of weeks, especially if the dry cow’s udder was infused with antibiotics. Antibiotic residues in the milk tend to depress beneficial organisms in the gut.

If possible, feed your best-quality whole milk to your heifer calves. Everything you do, or don’t do, for a calf in the first few hours after birth will have an effect. Do it right and improve herd health now and for future generations.

Originally printed in the June 2008 issue of The Progressive Dairyman.

Learn more about A Holistic Vet’s Prescription for a Healthy Herd here.

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About the Authors:

Richard J. “Doc” Holliday graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in 1959 and has worked in veterinary medicine for over fifty years. Holliday studied the relationship between soil fertility and animal health under the renowned Dr. William Albrecht before conducting his own private mixed veterinary practice in northwest Missouri. Holliday became certified as a veterinary acupuncturist in 1988 and served as the president of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society from 1992 to 1994. Holliday currently works as the senior veterinary consultant for Helfter Feeds, Inc.

Jim Helfter, the founder, owner, and CEO of Advanced Biological Concepts, has been dedicated to providing livestock producers with nutritional technology to achieve maximum animal health for the production of drug and hormone-free meat and milk for over forty years. Jim’s evolution into holistic thought began when he was an aerospace researcher for the Martin Corporation Aerospace Division in Colorado. Jim’s experience as an owner and rider of long-distance endurance horses added another dimension to his understanding of nutrition and mineral balance in performance animals as well as food-producing livestock. His years of hands-on experience taught him that animal health problems are due to nutritional deficiencies from single-source diets and related environmental conditions such as confinement. He has dedicated his company to the prevention of disease through nutrition.

Similar Books of Interest:

Natural Cattle Care, by Pat Coleby

Four-Seasons Organic Cow Care, by Hubert Karreman

Cure Your Own Cattleby Newman Turner