Balancing forage and cereals in the diet for optimised milk production

14 Oct 2019

Many farms will now have come to the end of the silage season after what has been an excellent year for grass with plenty of conserved forage as we move into the autumn. With grass quality and quantity now declining, it is important to understand its nutritional composition to ensure we’re meeting the demands of our cows over the winter.

Conducting a forage analysis is an essential planning tool, especially with this years increased forage availability to ensure that larger quantities of forage in the diet does not leave the cow lacking in essential nutrients. Current analyses are showing on average lower dry matter % and varying levels of quality so this needs to be addressed when creating diets.

With these increased quantities, the decision needs to be made as to which groups of milking cows can utilise it best. In calf and/or mid/late lactation animals would be best placed to receive additional forage as they can cope with increased dry matter intake expectations. With increased intakes however, the question needs to be asked as to whether there is sufficient space in the feed trough as well as the cow!

Mid-late lactation pregnant cows should also be challenged to eat more home grown grass silage to improve milk from forage figures. After all we are feeding an animal with a rumen that when balanced correctly can be extremely efficient at converting forage into milk. This in turn is an excellent way to reduce feed costs and improve margin per litre or margin per cow.

For transition dry cows and early lactation cows, body condition should be monitored to ensure the right levels of nutrition are targeted accordingly. Managing these transition cows effectively will help to improve early lactation dry matter intakes. A judgement should also be made as to whether this group requires part or full time housing which will largely be dependent on their body condition as well as the weather conditions moving forward.

To improve dry matter intake, an easy addition to the diet is to introduce molasses or moist feeds, such as Draff or InverGold. Exclusive to Harbro, Invergold (moist maize distillers grains) has high levels of energy and bypass protein and is an ideal concentrate replacer that drives increased milk production and milk protein. Grain is also a cost effective option this year, and treating home grown or bought in grain with Maxammon increases protein, pH and the digestibility of the diet resulting in improved milk solids and yield as well as improved health and fertility.

Balance is always the key to any ration, irrespective of time of year or stage of lactation. Monitoring and understanding feed intakes and performance allows for the design of the correct inputs required for the outputs dictated by your contract. Our Milk Monitor scheme is a benchmarking tool that allows for the evaluation and comparison of farm performance based on a number of variables. It gives an assessment of performance and allows farms to see how they compare to the national average.

The monthly figures we’re recording consistently show large variations both from one farm to another and even within individual herds, highlighting the need to monitor and adapt to changing conditions in order to maximise both the health and performance of your dairy herd.


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