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Ration balance: Ensuring your dairy cows are getting exactly what they need

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Understanding exactly what you have in your clamps and using cutting edge ration balance software to ensure cows are getting exactly what they need is a vital component of nutrition efficiencies.

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Ration balance: Ensuring your dairy cows are getting exactly what they need

New ration balance software, which better understands how different feeds are digested in the cow, could help ration cows more effectively and boost diet efficiencies.

 

According to Dai Lewis, of Massey Feeds, the NutriOpt Dairy programme, developed by Trouw Nutrition, takes ration accuracy to a whole new level.

 

He says: “The traditional Feed into Milk programme developed over 15 years ago looked at energy supply and crude protein, but did not look at how the cow processed them.

 

“NutriOpt Dairy looks at fermentation in the rumen, digestion in the small intestine and fermentation in the large intestine. This is more accurate as it gives more information on the degradability of different raw materials and forages and how they act within the cow.”

 

Some of the new rationing parameters include:

 

Dynamic energy (DyNE)

This is the measure of the total amount of energy available for milk production and replaces metabolisable energy (ME).

 

It is the sum of products of fermentation in the rumen, digestion in the small intestine and fermentation in the large intestine, which includes volatile fatty acids (VFAs), glucose, amino acids and fatty acids.

 

Mr Lewis says: “It is more accurate than ME, as it gives a more precise figure of what is actually available and useable by the cow. I find that yield from DyNE tends to be what I actually see on-farm, rather than yield from ME.”

 

Gluconogenic energy

The total amount of glucose precursors available from fermentation acids and intestinal absorption available for milk production.

 

He says: “This is important in early lactation for fertility. If you can adequately supply gluconogenic energy, depending on yield, the sooner she gets back into positive energy balance and back in-calf.”


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Dai Lewis advises testing stocks at least monthly or any time the clamp is changed.
Dai Lewis advises testing stocks at least monthly or any time the clamp is changed.

Acid load

Total fermentation products from VFA production in the rumen and intakes of acids from silage or other feeds.

 

Mr Lewis says: “This is about maximising rumen health and rumen function. If you improve rumen health, you get better diet utilisation.

 

If a cow has a high acid load, she does not want to eat and she will not be able to utilise the diet.


“This will have an impact on milk constituents.”

 

Rapidly fermentable carbohydrates (RFC)

Carbohydrates fermented in the rumen in less than two hours after feeding. Mainly starch and sugars.

 

Slowly fermentable carbohydrates (SFC)

Carbohydrates fermented in the rumen in more than two hours after feeding. Mainly starch, NDF and pectin.

 

Total fermentable carbohydrates (TFC)

The sum of RFC and SFC.

 

Rapidly fermentable protein (RFP)

The amount of protein fermented in the rumen in less than two hours after feeding.

 

Slowly fermentable protein (SFP)

The amount of protein fermented in the rumen in more than two hours after feeding.

 

Total fermentable protein (TFP)

The sum of RFP and SFP

New ration balance software could help ration cows more effectively
New ration balance software could help ration cows more effectively

Rumen balance

If you do not get the balance right between rapidly fermentable products and slowly fermentable products, problems can arise. For example, too much RFC can lead to sub-acute ruminal acidosis or acidosis leading to low feed conversion efficiency, less milk and constituents and even sick cows.

 

Mr Lewis now uses RFP, TFP, RFC, TFC and DyNE and NDIP to ration cows, instead of rationing for crude protein.

 

He says: “If you have enough RFP and TFP for the cow, the crude protein is irrelevant. Crude protein is a 40-year-old outdated term which does not have much significance to what is happening in the cow.”

 

Ration balance

All silage analysed by Trouw Nutrition will now come back with NutriOpt parameters, together with standard parameters, such as dry matter.

 

Considering forage forms the foundations of any ration, Mr Lewis advises testing stocks at least monthly or any time the clamp is changed.

 

Bought-in feed can then be specifically selected to complement these forage stocks, using the NutriOpt Dairy rationing programme to balance the total diet effectively.

 

He says: “This is the best way to maximise feed efficiency and fertility, and only efficient farmers will survive.”

Ration troublshooting

  • High milk ureas
  • Gives an indication of excess rumen fermentable protein
  • Look at RFC, TFC, RFP and TFP to see if energy and protein are out of balance Acidosis
  • Cows have loose dung and do not appear to be ruminating
  • Too much total fermentable carbohydrate can rapidly reduce rumen pH and cause problems
  • The wrong sources of sugars and starch in the diet may be being fermented too quickly
  • Use RFC and TFC to ensure the correct sources of carbohydrates are fed at the right levels
  • Look at acid load of all feed sources Low butterfat
  • High levels of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates, increased acid load and low fibre may depress milk fats
  • Ensure RUFAL does not exceed 25g/kg DM in the total ration
Case Study

CASE STUDY: Neil Morgan, Trederwen Hall Farm, Welshpool

With cows yielding more than 10,500 litres/cow/year, Welsh producer Neil Morgan believes testing forages on a regular basis is essential to ensure rations remain consistent and production is maintained.

 

Mr Morgan works closely with nutritionist Dai Lewis, of Massey Feeds, who continuously monitors forage quality and balances diets using the NutriOpt Dairy programme.

 

Mr Morgan says: “The aim is to get as much as I can out of forage. Dai takes samples for analysis every week, as things change. You hit different fields through the clamp and we do layer through the clamp.

 

“Some people take one sample for winter. That is not the way to go about it. You need to test more, especially with high-yielders, as you need a consistent diet and the same day-in-day-out. If you do not get it right, the wheels fall off.”

 

The system is built around quality forage, with the aim of maximising dry matter intakes. This year’s first and second cuts analyse very high for gluconogenic energy and dynamic energy, with very high fermentable energy and protein balance.

 

Reseeding

 

Mr Morgan believes regular reseeding is key to producing quality silage.

 

The 180-cow Holstein Friesian herd is rationed for maintenance plus 31 litres and topped up to yield through out of parlour feeders, up to a 10kg/head/day.

 

Cows are currently being fed grass silage, lucerne big baled silage, chopped straw, caustic wheat, fodder beet, a buffer, mineral and a blend. The base diet is 58% forage, with cows achieving forage intakes of 12.92kg DM/head/day. Milk from forage is 3,307 litres/cow/year.

 

Mr Lewis says gluconogenic energy is a key rationing parameter for the herd. He says: “It is a very high-yielding herd with some cows peaking at 60 litres milked twice-a-day. If you get gluconogenic energy right, I can return cows to positive energy balance quicker.”

 

In general, Mr Lewis believes in ensuring the main diet and any concentrate fed through the parlour or out of parlour feeders are balanced with the same ratio of Total Fermentable Protein and Total Fermentable Carbohydrates. It is important to balance the rates of fermentation.”

 

Balance

 

This ensures cows get the right balance of energy and protein so she is able to utilise protein more effectively.

 

This also prevents wastage out of the back of the cow, which limits environmental impact, while also creating lower blood ureas, which can negatively impact fertility.

 

Mr Morgan believes the NutriOpt programme aids efficient rationing on-farm: “Any new technology for feeding cows is good.”


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