Almost 200 dairy farmers attended the recent AgriSearch farm walk in Omagh.
Top of the agenda was the merits of taking a moderate build-up approach to feeding concentrates at the start of lactation.
Host farmers Drew and Valerie McConnell at Carrigans Park near Omagh, along with four other farm businesses, were involved in on-farm research co-funded by AgriSearch and the DARD Research Challenge Fund, which has sought to test a novel approach to early lactation feeding.
Opening the on farm debate Dr Andrew Dale of AFBI, Hillsborough said that most health problems occur immediately pre-calving, or within 2-4 weeks post-calving due to physical, social, dietary and metabolic stress.
One possible way to reduce metabolic stress levels is to delay concentrate build-up and reduce dietary protein levels. Two studies carried out at AFBI Hillsborough showed that delayed build-up strategies led to higher forage intakes, which in turn improved rumen health. Over the whole lactation there was no effect on milk yield or composition and no effect on fertility.
The concept was then examined on five local dairy farms, including Drew and Valerie’s, in a study involving 385 cows calving from October to April. One treatment involved an immediate build-up of concentrates with normal protein levels and the other treatment used a delayed build-up strategy with lower protein levels.
This trial showed that there is some loss of milk with the delayed build-up, but this is compensated for by less concentrate being fed. In addition, conception to first service was significantly improved with the delayed build-up strategy, although overall conception rate was not affected.
Thus the delayed build-up strategy could have a role on farms with high rumen health issues; however farms wishing to embark on this strategy must have high quality silage available.
Taking the combined results of the Hillsborough and on-farm studies Dr Dale recommended that a moderate build-up approach be adopted with concentrates increased over the first 21-days of lactation. A free farmers’ booklet on the three early lactation feeding projects will be available early in the New Year.
Browse www.agrisearch.org for details of these and other projects selected for support by AgriSearch, the NI Agricultural R & D Council.