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By Mikaela Baker, (B. Ag Sci), TRAC Ruminant Productivity Consultant

Lead feeding is a targeted diet for cows 21 days pre-calving that consists of cereal hay, grain and anionic salts or a lead feed TMR.

There are a few key reasons why we lead feed dairy production cows:

  1. A pre-calving cow has a higher requirement for energy as she is creating colostrum and carrying a full-term calf.

  2. They are about to significantly change the composition of their diet from “dry cow” to “lactating”.

  3. Also to reduce metabolic diseases.

Dry cows at this time of the year are mostly all on grass, either in their own paddocks or following the milkers. Changing the dry cows from full grass to cereal hay with no grass for three weeks, then back to full grass as a lactating cow seems to go against the theory of “prepare for a lactating cow diet”, but the method behind the madness is to reduce the DCAD (Dietary Cation Anion Balance) to avoid metabolic diseases and oedema. The other part to managing the DCAD is by feeding anionic salts (lead feed), this is a balance of minerals to make calcium more available while also providing necessary vitamins and minerals for the cow’s requirements to maintain health and a strong immune system through this high stress period. The last component, and one of the most important parts, is grain in a lead feed ration. Feeding starchy grains such as wheat or barley (depending on your milker ration) develops the rumen papillae to increase surface area for absorption and grows the bug population necessary for breaking down the feed to make available for absorption.

Ruminants attain up to 80% of their energy from Volatile Fatty Acids, these VFA’s are created by the bugs living in their rumen that break down the food. Without the appropriate population of bugs, there is minimal ability to break down the food for absorption.

A change in diet takes a minimum of 3 weeks and the animal can continue adapting for up to 6 weeks and longer, particularly when it comes to grain. When the cows join the milking herd, they often go onto 6 kgs of dairy grain, if they haven’t had any grain for 8 weeks this is a significant change in their rumen environment and at the same time they have a significant demand on them to produce milk and walk to and from paddocks.

The most important thing to remember when assessing your transition protocol is to remember the iceberg theory of disease, where the visible cases are only the tip of the iceberg. The sub-clinical, are our unseen diseases that are the highest animal disease cost through lost production, long term.

Lead feeding and good transition management not only reduces your visible diseases in many cases, but it decreases the impact of indirect losses, it sets the herd up for their annual milk yield potential and impacts days to conception.

For more information on setting up a transition protocol,

speak with your local TRAC consultant today, your experts in ruminant productivity

or phone the TRAC Office on 08 8733 1888


Our Consultants


Tom Thorn

0427 243 319

Owen Rees

0429 437 823

Mikaela Baker

0457 243 319


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Why do we lead feed
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