Putting liver & rumen first helps Wiltshire farm hit top yields

When cows are producing 11,200 litres per head per year, the diet has to be consistent and designed with the liver and rumen in mind, according to the team at our Focus Farm in Wiltshire.

Such an approach is vital whatever the stage of production, but particularly in the run-up to calving and the weeks that follow.

Our Sustainability Manager, Dr Matt Witt handles the nutrition for Stowell Farms, where the 780 cow herd is milked through 12 Lely A5 robots. He works closely with the team to design a dry cow ration that will prime the rumen for lactation. In doing so, cows are ready to consume high levels of dry matter and hit production targets.

Rumen condition

“Part of the job of the close-up ration is to keep the rumen conditioned. I describe it as sending the rumen to the gym,” Matt said. “We want to give the rumen a good start and maximise its ability to digest forage and absorb nutrients.”

This focuses around providing cows with plenty of quality forage and fibre. This is helped by a carefully designed dry cow shed, which has ample feed and lying space. Feed is pushed up regularly, whilst fans reduce heat stress.

Cows are put on a close-up diet three weeks before calving. This includes rye wholecrop silage, straw, water and 3kg per head per day of a Translink 3000 nut which contains choline, yeasts, anionic salts and minerals.

Farm Manager, Neil Ridgway said the Translink 3000 helps with ration consistency as one roll can be fed that includes all of the essential supplements. “If you were to feed every single item in there separately, you’d have tonnes of stock that you’d be relying on a tractor driver to load correctly. With Translink it’s all in one nut.”

Close-up dry cows also receive 150g per head per day of Mole Valley Farmers’ AppleBoost MPG, which is a blend of glycerine and monopropylene glycol to help prepare the cow for lactation.

Liver function

Maximising liver function is a key consideration in diet formulation. An important part of liver function is the production of glucose, Matt explained. The cow relies almost solely on the liver to produce glucose which is essential for milk production and quality, immunity and the central nervous system. Choline in the transition nut supports liver function.

At calving, cows are unable to consume enough energy to meet demand, leading to negative energy balance and the mobilisation of body fat. If this is not managed and becomes extreme, ketones are produced by the liver and the cow can develop ketosis. Ketosis has a negative impact on yields, fertility and health through reduced feed intakes.

The AppleBoost improves liver function by giving cows an energy boost that then reduces body fat mobilisation. This in turn reduces the risk of fatty liver and ketosis.
Neil believed AppleBoost “kicks the liver into gear” so cows are able to hit production targets. “From day one we were feeding mono propylene glycol to fresh cows. We’ve now started that earlier. Why ask the liver to do more at the point they calve – supplement earlier so the liver is up and running.”

AppleBoost is also fed through the robot for the first three weeks post calving. Its fresh apple flavour helps to drive intakes. It is also automatically provided at 50g per head per day to any individuals yielding over 60 litres a day after the three weeks. This is all part of Neil and Herd Manager Chris Gowen’s preventative approach to cow health, which is supported by the data from the robots.


The robots monitor individual cow milk fat and protein levels as a means of establishing ketosis risk. Any imbalance will be flagged and cows will be dosed with AppleBoost. This helps prevent subclinical ketosis from developing into clinical disease – something which the herd no longer sees.

Neil said: “The AppleBoost has delivered everything I wanted. From my experience, whether it’s dry cows, fresh cows or high yielders, their demand on the liver is huge. If we’re not looking after the liver, cows won’t be healthy and productive.”

Body condition is also important, as fat cows are more prone to ketosis, suboptimal fertility and calving difficulties. This is helped by the robots which feed cows as individuals, according to yield. They are also weighed through the robots.

For advice on diet management on robotic milking herds, contact the Feed Line on 01566 780261 or feeds@molevalleyfarmers.com