Cutting feed rates can be false economy

Cargill's Dr Philip Ingram
Cargill's Dr Philip Ingram

Cargill nutritionist Dr. Philip Ingram has told Farming Life that cutting concentrate feed rates to dairy cows is a short term saving with long term consequences.

“Cows in Northern Ireland that are currently averaging 8,000 litres per lactation from up to 2.5 tonnes of meal are still generating high levels of business turnover.

“So in real terms, cutting back meal inputs by even a few hundred kilos per animal is a small component in the overall financial framework of a modern dairy farming business,” he said.

“The short term impact of such a decision will be an immediate drop in milk output. Essentially, if there are less litres produce, this makes each litre produced more expensive. But the longer term consequences must also be taken into consideration.

“By lowering the levels of nutrition fed to cows they are less likely to come back into calf. Fertility is a huge driver of efficiency. Poor fertility equates to a greater proportion of stale, less efficient cows. There are also health benefits to be gained by maintaining cows on an optimal level of nutritionally balanced feed input.”

The Cargill representative went on to confirm that making best use of feed must be the key priority for dairy farmers at all times, particularly against the backdrop of challenging milk prices.

“Cows in mid lactation and beyond will produce significant quantities of milk from grazed grass,” he commented.

“And in such scenarios there is scope to reduce the protein content of the concentrate being offered to between 14 and 16%.

“However, cows capable of producing over 25 litres and put out to grass should receive a buffer TMR at night. This is to help maintain energy balance and condition – not just yield. And in the case of very high yielding cows, the most effective management option is to maintain these animals on a full TMR day and night.”

Ingram continued: “It is crucially important for dairy farmers in Northern Ireland to utilise grazed grass as efficiently as possible in the diets they feed to their stock. And the same principle holds when it comes to making quality silage. Forage quality is the key driver behind dairy performance the year round.”