Nutrition: Forget about ingredients, think about the cow!

“Sugar Beet Pulp improves butterfat”

“Feeding over 4kgs of wheat causes acidosis”

“Feeding straw reduces milk yield”

These are some of the many comments that you hear when discussing dairy nutrition, and although these are valid in many situations, these types of comments totally miss out on the potential of modern dairy nutrition. Historically, relying on certain ingredients has always ensured good herd performance with a typically predicable response, but with an ever growing drive for financial efficiency, there is a demand to push the boundaries of dairy nutrition. Cows have nutritional demands for energy, protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins that, with today’s scientific knowledge and computer modelling software, can be broken down to the smallest detail. As long as these demands are satisfied, there is no advantage in supplementing these demands with certain raw materials. If this philosophy is applied to dairy rationing, significantly more feeding options become available.

Sounds simple, and in reality it is, but importantly there are two prerequisites that must be adhered to:

Always satisfy the true demands of your cow’s nutrition for the desired yield level.

This comes down to really knowing what a cow needs; cows don’t value ME – she needs carbohydrates to ferment in her rumen to create volatile fatty acids and produce metabolisable protein. This demand must be satisfied before supplying ketogenic energy and chasing ME. A cow has no nutritional demand for crude protein; it is amino acids that she needs. These can come either as a result of the ruminal fermentation of crude protein and carbohydrates to create microbial protein or fed as bypass sources. As long as these demands are satisfied, the source is irrelevant.

Accurately cost in all feed ingredients.

We have established what she really needs, so now allocate a cost to all raw ingredients. At this point, the true value of feedstuffs will become apparent to your dairy business. A cheap source of crude protein may become very expensive if you have to feed twice as much of it to get the metabolisable protein needed – displacing forage. A product that initially seems very costly may actually be the most cost effective, as it can supply the cow’s requirements at a lower feed rate.

The more we understand about dairy nutrition, the more accurately we can supply the needs of the cow. More often than not, when costed in properly and rationed to the cows true demands, feeds that are perceived as high value i.e. wheat and soya are the most economical, with palm kernel only cost effective to feed if bought for £50/t. Nevertheless, the calculations need to be done in every situation to fully exploit the economic advantages of accurate rationing through considering the cow’s true demands, not the perceived advantages of certain ingredients.

Last but not least, always put an accurate cost of forage into calculations, as maximising forage intakes is often the way to create the highest margins in dairy production – but only if your forage is any good!

For more details on accurate feed cost analysis, contact a member of Wynnstay Dairy Technical Services.

Mark Price
Dairy Specialist
You can follow Mark on Twitter @m_priceo or find out how to contact him here.

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