Take stock of feed quality as cold snap approaches

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As the second half of the winter feeding period approaches and temperatures in the UK look set to fall for the first time this winter, Cargill’s ruminant specialist Dr Philip Ingram urges producers to look carefully at cow rations and avoid cutting back on diet specification.

“Although each farm situation is different, many had stores of good quality grass silage this year,” says Dr Ingram. “Higher dry matter grass silage and increased energy levels in first cut silage have helped to maintain yields so far.

“Although each farm situation is different, many had stores of good quality grass silage this year. Higher dry matter grass silage and increased energy levels in first cut silage have helped to maintain yields so far.”

Dr Philip Ingram Cargill

“But maize silage quality has not been as good with much of the crop wetter. And the wetter the maize silage, the higher the proportion of starch fermented in the rumen and the greater the risk of acidosis.”

He suggests producers make sure they formulate the ration accurately and avoid short cuts.

“If forage quality isn’t quite as good or there’s a risk of digestive problems such as acidosis then the ration should be adjusted to minimize the risk of problems,” he adds. “It’s far more economically prudent to add a rumen buffer that despite an initial cost, has a proven track record of maintaining or increasing yields.

“We’ve shown that a good quality rumen buffer like Equaliser, that can add 6p/day can increase yields by one or two litres – the maths here shows obvious benefits. The extra performance easily outweighs the cost and contributes to increased income over feed cost”

There are also benefits in protecting cow health.

“Digestive problems such as acidosis can stretch beyond milk yields and affect fertility too as well as increasing labour, vet and medicine costs. All these factors can have a negative effect on herd efficiency.”

Drawing on Cargill research and trial work, Dr Ingram highlights the benefits of using a cost-effective rumen buffer.

In an experiment at the Cargill Innovation Centre in the Netherlands, the same high-starch ration was fed to three groups of cows but with daily levels of the rumen buffer at 300g/head, 150g/head and zero for three weeks. Cows were averaging 30 litres of milk a day.

“The results showed a distinct change in the type of fermentation in the rumen when the dosage of buffer increased. There was a decrease in the very acidic lactic acid and an increase in the fermentation derivatives of fibre. This was accompanied by a very significant improvement of 0.53% in milk fat and an increase in feed efficiency compared with the control.”

Recent field trials have also compared the effect of including Equaliser and sodium bicarbonate in the concentrate fed to cows in early lactation. Equaliser has 2.65 times more buffering capacity than sodium bicarbonate, so cows received either 100g of Equaliser or 265g of sodium bicarbonate in their concentrate.

Intakes were higher in cows receiving Equaliser compared with cows fed sodium bicarbonate.

“The increase in dry matter intake, which resulted in an increase of 0.5kg/day/cow in milk yield while maintaining fat content is most likely a result of the improved palatability of the diet compared with the diet containing sodium bicarbonate,” adds Dr Ingram.

And the results highlight the potential trap of short term false economy.

“When the goal is cost reduction, producers often have to settle for slightly less production. In most cases this means a reduction in feed efficiency and a less profitable situation because total costs have to be spread across fewer litres.

“But if the goal is extra income, formulating the diet correctly and using a buffer where it is needed can help improve performance and increase income over feed cost.”