The dry period in the lactation cycle of cows/buffaloes is the transition period where milking is to be stopped and all energy is allowed to be diverted towards the development of the foetus inside. The growing foetus is absorbing most of its nutrients from the placenta and its bodily systems are being established before it is delivered out into the world. The foetus needs energy and fat and more importantly protein, for organ development, immunity building, and proper growth which is received from the mother’s nutrition during the dry period. When the calf is born, the mother starts feeding milking the newborn, and thus, ending the dry period. Nutrition given to the mother (Cow) during this transition phase directly impacts the calf qualitatively, in terms of proper growth, health, development, and fertility as well as productivity of the calf born.
Animals in India are mostly fed with hay/straw/stovers, grains, brans, oil cakes, or pelleted feeds made of these agricultural products and supplemented with minor quantities of minerals and vitamins. Due to the vegetarian nature of ingredients, one of the key macro nutrients deficient in feeding practices in India is protein. It is important to ensure the right amount of protein is fed to the mother cow especially during the dry period as well as to the calf postpartum. As the calf is born, it immediately steps on its own legs and this is feasible only if the development is appropriate.
It’s important to note, that for 1 year from the birth of the calf, complex proteins or feed ingredients are not to be given as the stomach hasn’t developed into its characteristic four compartments.
Therefore, once the calf is weaned, it should be given colostrum milk within half an hour which helps establish the rumen microflora, and digestion and also gives the innate immunity required to be safe from immediate infections. Around 2nd week onwards, milk replacer is to be given followed by calf starter as suggested by NDDB standards, which should ideally provide a minimum of 23% protein to the calves along with other basic requirements like fat, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and most importantly water required for their growth and development.
Many farmers in India are negligent towards nutrition during the dry period and also unaware of its repercussions on the health of offspring or of the mother. Therefore, we see higher percentages of calf death just as it’s born. We also see the per animal milk productivity to be low in spite of the AI advancements. With AI, the calves born are certainly improved strains and the government is taking a lot of efforts for breed improvement. But to sustain the genetic improvement and make better yielding breeds, special emphasis on nutrition and feed management is required at every step in lactation which often seems to be neglected.
Post 1.5 years, a calf is to be fed to prepare it for its first timely pregnancy which ideally occurs at 2.5 years and above. After the first delivery, the calf is now a full-grown cow which requires 600- 700 grams of protein per day only for maintenance, and every 120 grams of protein given above is translated into approximately 1 litre of milk. So, if a cow or buffalo gives 5 litres of milk, it is fed approximately 1200 grams of protein per day as per our studies.
Proteins are required by the calf to maintain everyday biological processes as well as for the wear and tear of tissues and blood formation. Proteins are also an integral part of muscle development. Most protein synthesis occurs in tissues such as the liver and gut wall, which are actively involved with processing nutrients to meet the requirements of the body. These metabolic functions involve the synthesis of enzymes and hormones, cell division, and cell repair, and therefore an everyday continuous supply of different types of protein and energy is required. Feed protein is broken down by digestion into its individual amino acids, which the calf absorbs and then resynthesizes for its maintenance and growth. Once the basic growth and development of a calf are achieved, the proteins are consumed for body maintenance and the rest of them are translated into the production of milk, giving milk the protein it contains!
But when it comes to protein, one should be aware of the quantities required during different stages of growth, the different types of protein, and sources.
“MP is defined as the true protein, and the amino acids that make up that protein are available for digestion and absorbed by the intestines. Metabolizable protein is a better reflection of protein supply to the cow, and it typically comes from a combination of three sources “, mentions Dairy Nutritionist, Angie Manthey. The three sources are:
Rumen-degradable protein (RDP) or Microbial crude protein- synthesized in the rumen, produced by microbes in the gut. It is the protein broken down within the rumen and fermentable carbohydrates in the diet. Fresh and conserved pastures, protein meals, and non-protein nitrogen sources or slow-release nitrogen products are feeds that offer high RDP. Feeds with low RDP include cereal grains, maize silage, and cereal straws.
Rumen-undegradable protein (RUP) is the protein from the feed that bypasses through the rumen without being degraded by the rumen microbes. Processed protein meals such as cottonseed or canola meal are high in RUP. The popular name for RUP is “Bypass Protein”. Cakes, whose proteins are highly degradable proteins in the rumen, like Mustard oil cake, rape seed cake, and groundnut cake, these cake proteins can also be protected from rumen degradation with a thin layer of Formaldehyde (in micro quantities). Feeding of Bypass Protein to cows and buffaloes in India has become a very popular trend in India. Indian Feed Industry is now regularly manufacturing and selling Bypass Protein, the product, which has found popularity among dairy farmers as well, to increase milk yield, as thus, their income as well.
Endogenous crude protein, is the protein secreted within the body ex hormones, etc and is the least of all sources
When given in the form of RUP, the feed protein is efficiently used by calves and utilized by abomasum for acid digestion. Therefore, it’s the amino acids or building blocks of protein that are important, and often it is important to ensure limiting amino acids like methionine, lysine, etc are supplied through the choice of bypass protein feed. The amino acid requirement depends on the calf’s growth rate. An increased supply of energy through feed will increase the amount of RDP which rumen microbes can resynthesize to make protein.
While formulating a ration for calves, it is important to balance the feeds for all types of protein and energy to digest it. It is important not to feed more than the recommended amount of protein.
A proprietary vegetarian supplement that is giving a high amount of bypass protein, microbes to digest protein coming from a regular feed regime, and minerals and vitamins as well amino acids for the microbes to function optimally, is now available. The supplement has given excellent results in studies like udder development, timely successful pregnancies, and appropriate healthy weight gain in Gir and Murrah calves. The calves have also developed into high-yielding Gir and Murrah breeds with increased per-animal productivity and improved reproduction ratio.
As a key takeaway, calves need the right amount of bypass protein (RUP) and good microbes to digest the RDP from feed sources given along with energy, fat, and fiber for their optimum growth and for a profitable dairy farm.