When you manage dry cows, there is one important rule to remember: All cows in a group should be able to eat at the same time throughout the dry period.
Especially if you have weak and low-ranking cows eating “in the second wave”, the lack of feed space can negatively impact the feed intake. These cows will typically experience that the strong cows have sorted the feed, which may result in them getting a ration that is less concentrated than intended.
The highly pregnant dry cows often require special attention and be sure not to overcrowd the feed table. In this group, the capacity for feed intake decreases by 30 percent in the last 2-3 weeks before calving while the needs of the foetus increase. Therefore, it is even more important to avoid overcrowding at the feeding table as it can affect feed intake — especially for the weak and low-ranking cows.
If there are headlocks in the dry cow box, the occupancy rate should not exceed 100, which means that there is always one headlock per cow. In a system with no head lock, the required eating space should be 80 cm for large breeds and 70 cm for Jersey.
If you have the capacity in the barn, a solution with 80 percent occupancy at the feed table is worth considering in the last 2-3 weeks before calving. That equates to 10 headlocks per 8 cows. Similarly, in groups with a neck boom at the feeding table, there should be 1.2 eating places per cow. This corresponds to 96 cm for large breeds and 84 cm for Jersey cows.
Beds or a foundation with straw, sand or fibre are ideal
Just before and after calving, the cow is subjected to strong physical stress. Therefore, it is important to avoid additional stressors like inconvenient bed stalls, overcrowding, crowding at the feeding tables or conflicts related to the establishment of hierarchy.
When you set up the bed stalls, the width should be at least 130 cm for large breeds and 115 cm for Jersey cows. In the deep bedding, the large breeds should have 8 m2 and Jerseys 6 m2 per cow.
During the dry period, bed stalls with resilient material (sand, fibre, straw) are better than mats or mattresses. Especially in the last 2-3 weeks before expected calving, the cow's comfort is crucial and a solution with deep bedding or other compliant material is ideal.