FiveF believes alkaline feeding solutions are revolutionising the way dairy farmers feed high yielding dairy cows, enabling milk producers to maximise their use of home-grown feed crops.
Put simply, it is about saving money through harnessing ammonia release technology to boost ration protein while allowing the rumen to work at its optimum pH.
Alkalising homegrown cereals this harvest offers UK dairy farmers a proven route to lower winter ration costs, as well as the DIY means to produce a quality high yielding cow diet with excellent intake characteristics. And you can minimise the risk of acidosis and cut your bought-in feed protein bill.
Rob Smith, UK general manager with ration alkalisation specialist FiveF Alka, says: “You don’t have to feed your cows an acidic diet. “Having the ability to include alkalised feeds in the form of forages, compound nuts and blends, and in the TMR, can often be the final piece of the nutritional jigsaw for many ruminant diets.
The key is to utilise ammonia release technology to lift the pH of the ration before it gets into the cow, rather than afterwards by having to try and treat acidotic cows when it’s too late,” he says. Mr Smith says pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. "The pH scale gives scientists a way of measuring the strength of an acid or alkali. It ranges from 1.0 (most acidic; for example, battery acid) to 14.0 (most alkaline; for example, bleach).
The cow’s rumen microbial population works best when the rumen pH is between 5.8 and 6.6 – any instability and periods outside this range leads to sub-optimal rumen function, which essentially means poor diet utilisation and compromised animal performance. " The problem for UK dairy farmers is that most grass and maize silages tend to analyse at a pH between 3.5 and 4.5.
What’s more, pH variations are much bigger than you think. For example, pH 4.0 is 100 times more acidic than pH 6.0, which means most silages will have a signifcant depressing effect on optimal rumen function unless they can be balanced correctly before consumption.
This is where ration alkalisation comes in,” Mr Smith explains. He points out that properly alkalised diets can help increase ruminant feed intake by 5-10% when fed at effective levels. " The increase allows the diet to either be more powerful – to create higher performance – or contain a higher proportion of forage to reduce bought-in feed costs.
Even in a low milk price environment, this increase in dry matter intake can deliver about 2-2.5 extra litres from home grown feed, worth £150-£180 per cow per year.” As a result, many mixed dairy farms are now planning to crimp a dry, mature cereal crop later this summer to produce Alkagrain, which is a stable, high energy/high protein feed which can replace bought-in concentrates.
Alkagrain can be made from all types of cereal grains at harvest and produces a feed with better intake characteristics that is drier and much less acidic than grass and maize silages.
Mr Smith says many producers of Alkagrain have found that as well as the obvious benefits of alkalinity and stability in storage, the addition of FiveF’s high protein pellets used in its production boosts the conserved feed’s protein level – and, together with the alkaline effect, allows a greater proportion of cereal to be used in the ration.
“Essentially, this is a dual cash benefit and some farmers we work with are even able to double or triple the standard cereal inclusion rate and still deliver the final feed protein level they require – and all without causing any problems for the cow.
Indeed, we are finding that many of our customers are now able to push the home-grown cereal content of their winter dairy cow rations up to 65-80% of the diet. this compares to 40-50% on conventional systems.”
Addition of the FiveF pellets to the harvested crop aggressively releases ammonia into the material, giving long-term stability and raising the pH to the alkaline range (pH 8.0 to 9.0). What is more, the protein level rises, fibre digestibility is improved and there is a further benefit in that vermin attention is also discouraged.
“In essence, we are effectively utilising the protein which would have had to be bought in the winter to conserve and enhance the grain during storage. And you can do all this without the need for bespoke equipment, specialist storage or drying, all-in-all giving you up to a 25% saving compared with alternative cereal processing methods,” Mr Smith says.
Milk producer Peter Cox is a strong advocate of investing in the latest dairy farming technology to help boost cow productivity. An early adopter of robot milking, he has always been keen to find ways of moving his business forward.
His recent new technology focus has been in the nutritional arena. Diet alkalisation, he believes, is a significant gamechanger, and is one of the main reasons he has been able to hit average yields of 12,100 litres/ cow/year while maintaining health and fertility on a high starch ration.
Generally, feeding a ration of more than 20% starch can bring heightened risk of rumen acidosis. However, he maintains that by ration alkalisation, the rumen is able to operate at an optimum pH level resulting in increased dry matter intakes and more efficient use of homegrown feeds.
At Mearfield Farm, the 140 pedigree Holsteins consistently receive a diet of about 20% starch, with levels occasionally hitting 23%. Mr Cox says without the alkaline feeding solution such levels would not be worth considering.
Increase starch intake
“Starch is crucial to produce such high yields as cows are very energy hungry. We want to get as much energy into the diet as possible, but you can’t put that much in without acidosis risk. The alkasystem gives us the confidence to push starch higher,” he explains.
“Before introducing the alkasystem, we were typically feed ing 3-3.5kg soya in the winter and now we feed a maximum of 2-2.5kg. That works out at about a £20/day saving for the whole alkasystem,” he says. He adds that because rumen health is so good, cows are healthier and have good immune function which is reflected in the health and fertility parameters recorded through the Herd Navigator system in the robots.
This system monitors milk parameters to allow early identification of mastitis, oestrus, ketosis and other health and fertility issues. “Fertility wise, cows are very good. We have a calving interval of 386 days and 63% conception to first service.” The biggest benefit from alkalising the diet on such a high yielding system will be seen in fresh-calved, highest yielding cows – those needing to consistently achieve high feed and energy intakes.
Higher milk proteins “By alkalising rations you get higher intakes of the base diet and, by maintaining intakes, it protects cow body condition and fertility. This will generally be reflected in high milk proteins in fresh calvers and less disparity in proteins through lactation.”
Increased dry matter intakes from the alkasystem will also help make better use of cost effective homegrown forage, something Mr Cox recognises. “The fact the rumen is not suppressed by acid loading means we are making the most of our feed and maximising the genetic potential of the cow,” he says.