US conference highlights research challenges confronting dairy sector
UNITED Feeds’ Director Dr Keith Agnew has just returned from Phoenix in Arizona, where he attended an international dairy and livestock research conference, co-hosted by the American Dairy Science Association, the American Society of Animal Science and five other renowned livestock research associations.
“The backdrop to the event was the ongoing drought in many parts of the United States and the impact this is having on corn and soya bean crops,” Keith told Farming Life.
“Rain may yet come in time to help soya producers. However, most corn crops are now beyond the point of pollination. This means that actual grain yields will be very low in the areas worst affected by the drought.
“While this will have implications for international corn availability and hence raw material prices over the coming months, livestock farmers in the US may well have to cope with the prospect of acute forage shortages next winter.
“A proportion of the corn crops initially intended for grain may well end up being harvested for forage. But this may not be enough to fill the fodder deficit now facing the dairy and beef sectors in America.
“A number of delegates and speakers at the conference were indicating that dairy cow numbers in states such as Missouri in the mid west of the United States could be reduced by as much as one third over the coming months.”
Turning to the actual presentations given at the conference, Dr Agnew confirmed that more light continues to be shed on the challenge of producing livestock in ways that minimise greenhouse gas production levels.
“It is now clear that securing the most efficient levels of animal production go hand-in-hand with the objective of minimising Methane and other greenhouse gas production levels from ruminant livestock,” he further explained.
“Recent work in the Netherlands has confirmed that overall greenhouse gas emissions levels per unit of milk produced are significantly reduced when good quality, as opposed to lower quality grass silage is fed to dairy cows. This is a conclusion which will be of particular relevance to local milk producers.”
One of the most interesting concepts to be discussed at the conference was that of Energy Spilling.
Keith Agnew takes up the story: “It has been known for some time that milk output from some diets rich in highly fermentable carbohydrates, such as starch, does not match up with expected performance levels. This may be down to a phenomenon known as ‘Energy Spilling’ and can occur quite commonly in cows that are in full health, not affected by any underlying metabolic disorders.
“Research at Ohio State University, backed up by work at the USDA Forage Analysis Laboratory has confirmed that ‘Energy Spilling is caused by protozoa and bacteria in the rumen literally gorging themselves on the breakdown products of dietary starch, which they covert to glycogen within their own cellular structures. This glycogen store is then subsequently dissipated as waste heat, making it totally unavailable for the purposes of milk production.”
He continued: “This is not just a problem for the high starch diets fed in North America. At United Feeds we have seen this issue impacting on local dairy farms. Given these circumstances, we now regularly submit TMR samples produced here in Northern Ireland for in vitro rumen analysis by the Canadian company ‘Fermentrics’.
“Our objective is to ascertain how to maximise rumen function by studying how diets are digested with a rumen environment, rather than relying solely on forage analysis.”
Keith Agnew concluded: “The good news is that we have made good progress to date, demonstrated by the key role ‘Fermentrics’ played in the development of the Advance range of feeds. Our aim now is to build on this for the future.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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