Dairy Cow Feed: Make Every Bite Count
Dr. Shane Holt
The most profitable dairies all have one thing in common – they are really good at getting milk components from cows.
They recognize the real value of milk lies in the fat and protein components and to get the best return on investment, they focus on feeding their cows for the most efficient component production, not just the highest milk production. In other words, they make sure every bite of the ration is working towards the right goal.
So how do you make every bite count?
A total on-farm approach to efficient component production involves dedication and consistency, but it starts with nutrition. The cornerstone of most diets is the homegrown forage. Making every bit of that forage count towards components takes careful care from seed selection to harvesting and storage.
A nutritionist formulates a ration based on the nutrients and dry matter in the homegrown forage, then supplements grain and other feedstuffs to supply the nutrients that the homegrown forage is lacking.
Cargill Dairy Focus Consultant, Dr. Shane Holt, works with dairy operations in three Western states who have changed the way they approach nutrition, focusing every aspect of management toward component production.
“I formulate rations based on nutrient needs, not ingredient requests,” Dr. Holt said. “If you are going to focus on component efficiency and make every bite count, every bite has to provide the exact nutrients that are required for health and productivity. Otherwise, you are just wasting bites”
Formulating the diet on paper seems relatively easy compared to delivering it consistently to the cows. Research by the University of Wisconsin has shown changes of dry matter (DM) of 3 to 8 percentage points DM within lots of both corn silage and haylage, and variation of 6 to 10 percent DM between lots of both silage types.
With today’s precision diets, those variations in dry matter can result in lost production, wasted nutrients, or both. Sampling dry matter consistently is one way to adjust nutrient density in real time. The moisture present in dry matter can have a serious impact on the health and performance of a cow depending on her needs.
Industry experts at Cornell have identified feeding management, specifically accurate and frequent assessment of silage dry matters to ensure consistent diet delivery, as one of the key areas of opportunity for dairy operations.
This is an area Dr. Holt already focuses on with his dairies, to ensure every bite counts toward component production. He encourages dairy farmers to start with an accurate assessment of dry matter so rations can be adjusted accordingly ensuring her needs are met consistently.
“Biologically, cows are complex and if they aren’t getting the right nutrients for their stage of lactation, their body may decide to limit their milk production, which in turn leads to a change in the milk’s components” says Dr. Holt. “Routinely monitoring the dry matter of the forage is critical to delivering consistent diets that yield consistent results.”
Seasonal changes and weather can change dry matter. Rainfall is a common scenario most dairies deal with on a monthly and sometimes daily basis. If cows eat their first meal of the day in the early morning after a long night of rain the dry matter of the forages may have changed which would mean the feed management program needs to be updated. A rapid simple way to measure dry matter can help catch these changes, if they are occurring, and keep on top of delivering consistent diets to cows.
Current sampling technology can be costly and take a long time – whether farms choose to send their samples to a lab or perform a test on site. Most on-farm tests can take around 45 minutes for results and can allow for human error due to the method of sampling.
But what if there was another way to analyze dry matter?
Reveal®, a new real-time forage analysis service from Cargill, allows anyone on a dairy farm to sample dry matter instantly. Ten scans with a micro-spectrometer the size of a deck of cards sends the analysis to a smartphone where the information can be exported or sent via text message. This new method allows feeders, dairy owners or nutritionists to adjust rations in real-time.
It’s a quick, accurate way to make sure every bite counts.
“Today’s dairy producers are constantly pushing the envelope to run a more productive and efficient operation. They need to make every bite count toward component production, and new cutting edge offerings like Reveal® analysis can help them make smarter decisions from harvest to feed out, when they need to be made,” says Dr. Holt.
Don’t leave money on the table. Find out how Reveal® analysis can help your operation make every bite count by visiting www.cargill.com/reveal.