More milk output and quality from the same feed

With forage stocks tight in some regions, and additional bought-in feeds to make up the shortfall adding to costs for most herds, margins are under pressure this winter. The opportunity to lift milk income by improving feed conversion efficiency is therefore something few can afford to ignore.
Rumen fermentation is the foundation on which dairy cow feeding is built. The threat when forage is in short supply is that rations end up less well balanced, and rumen function is less well supported as a result, with knock-on effects for production and cow body condition.

Supporting milk production

Any failure to provide a properly formulated diet will not only reduce milk output, but also force the cow to draw on valuable body reserves in an effort to maintain production.

With herds bred for higher yields over the last decade or two, it’s no longer a case of cutting back the feed if forage is tight and cows then happily producing less milk, modern cows are driven to produce milk, and failing to fully support their nutrient requirements will reduce lactation performance, fertility and longevity in the herd.

Fine tuning rations

Limiting parlour feed levels to meet milk yields, and formulate rations to balance both the amount and rate of energy and protein release in the rumen, careful use of sugars and starch in particular will help balance the rumen degradable protein in grass silage and drive efficient microbial growth.

Liquid feeds are typically the most cost-effective source of sugars, and will also minimise sorting by binding concentrates to the all-important fibre in the ration. Rumen-protected fats are also worth considering to help increase ration energy density without overloading the rumen.

The impact rumen conditions can have is highlighted by a 12-week trial in Ireland cows fed a typical 55:45 concentrate:forage ratio total mixed ration (TMR). Even without any obvious acidosis threat, adding the rumen conditioner Acid Buf significantly improved milk output, with increased buttefats  (3.87 vs. 3.68%),  similar milk proteins (3.26 vs. 3.21%) and a 0.84 kg/cow/day rise in milk yield.

Substantial performance impact

The net result was a 7% increase in total milk solids production (2.35 vs. 2.19 kg/cow/day) and a 1.74 kg/cow/day rise in energy-corrected milk yield, that’s a worthwhile amount of extra milk value from the same feed, and the impact would be even greater if there had been a higher SARA risk.

To find out more call Michael Davey on 0860242261