Nutritional strategies for overcrowding
By Mac Campbell, East Coast Dairy Technical Manager, [email protected]
Sometimes it can be difficult to observe the negative impacts of significant overcrowding (stocking density > 120%), as only some of the pen is affected. For example, let’s look at the performance of three cows in an overcrowded pen. Two of them perform at 100% of potential (dominant cows in the pen), but one of them performs at only 70% (subdominant cow). Averaged together, you have an overall score of 90%, much closer to the expected potential of the pen and differences that are often hard to see.
However, pushing higher levels of stocking density will continue to separate the potential of animals, sometimes even limiting the top performers. To maximize your herd’s potential when overcrowding, we must focus on nutritional strategies to address changes in subdominant cow behavior and minimize extra stressors.
Add physically effective fiber or uNDF240 – Overstocking can have devastating impacts on rumen pH, up to double the effect of dietary changes. Due to a lack of freestalls, subdominant animals must shift rumination behavior from a comfortable lying position to standing in open alleys.
Re-evaluate physical characteristics of TMR – In order for subdominant cows to receive the same mixed ration hours after dominant cows have had their pick, we need to minimize sorting. Adding water, liquid sugar or whey to feeds can help stick grains to forages, leading to more uniform intake of grain throughout the pen. Ask your nutritionist shake the feed using a Penn State Particle Separator.
Avoid slick bunks/alter feeding management – Cattle will prioritize resting during evening and nighttime hours, resulting in limited freestall space. Due to this, subdominant animals will adjust their feeding patterns, maintaining dry matter intake (DMI) through feed consumption during nighttime hours. Avoid slick bunk feeding strategies in overcrowded herds, as running out of feed will limit the subdominant cow’s ability to maintain intake.
- Additive/biohydrogenation support – With significant impact on rumen pH, overcrowding can also lead to lowered milkfat responses. Yeast fermentation products can help minimize changes in ruminal pH while 2-hydroxy-4-methylthio butanoic acid (HMTBa) sources can help support de novo butterfat production and reduce alternative biohydrogenation.
This article originally published in Progressive Dairy. You can access the full article here.