A straw-based product first popular in the 70s is making an unexpected comeback due to a combination of modern extended grazing techniques and highly fermentable TMR diets.
The alkalinity and nutritional content of nutritionally improved straw (NIS) appear to be able to balance modern diets to reduce include of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and increase dry matter intake.
David Cubitt from Sundown, who has been manufacturing NIS for decades, says he was initially surprised at the renewed interest in the product, but having looked more closely at how NIS has been performing in trials and on-farm, he says the role it’s now playing is becoming clear.
“As there’s been more financial pressure on the dairy industry, so farmers are looking to maximise nutritional intakes at least cost – but that can sometimes be at the expense of the rumen,” he says.
“I think this why we’ve seen considerable interest in two areas: from farmers who intensively graze cows and who can see evidence of SARA from high sugar, low fibre grass, especially in the spring and autumn; and in herds housed year-round where it’s hard to combine sufficient intakes of high energy TMR with good rumen health.”
David says the grass-based farmers have been feeding NIS pellets either in the parlour on their own or mixed with concentrate, or even in the field ad lib. “Cows find it palatable so it’s an easy, cost-effective way of getting straw into the animals.
“Housed cows are often short of effective fibre as well, but adding too much chopped straw to the TMR can result in sorting, reduced dry matter intakes due to gut fill from the straw, and a significant energy drop as a result. Many then add a rumen buffer to counteract SARA, but this is simply like eating lots of antacids without solving the root cause.
“We’ve found in these cases that adding NIS instead of chopped straw eliminates sorting and negates the need for a rumen buffer altogether, leading to an improvement in margin over all feed costs.”
Trials Sundown has commissioned have shown how adding NIS to TMR rations can increase dry matter intake and often either milk yield or butterfat yield or percentage.
David adds: “This year’s first cut results are suggesting good quality silage but with reduced NDF and higher sugars, which will affect acid loading on the rumen. So this winter, adding NIS at around 1-1.5kg per cow per day will counteract this and optimises rumen health to realise more value from the rest of the diet.”