​Invest in summer feeding or risk loss of yield once cows housed

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Length: 656 words; 3-4 minutes

Image of dairy cows being milked

Maximising milk from grass is critical to maintaining summer margins for most grazing herds. Yet failing to compensate for the steady drop-off in grass intakes as summer progresses will put winter production seriously under threat, warns KW nutritionist Dr Anna Sutcliffe.

According to figures from Trouw Nutrition, regaining 0.5 BCS (body condition score) lost during late summer can cut daily milk output by 1.9 litres/cow for the first three months of winter as cows prioritise replenishing lost condition once fully housed. For a 200 cow herd, it equates to a loss of around £8,900, even at 26ppl.

“Yet the alternative – providing the additional energy needed for those cows to retain that condition – can cost as little as £2,500, based on two months feeding 2.25kg FW/cow/day of Traffordgold wheat-gluten moist feed,” states Dr Sutcliffe. “Just make sure you choose good value feeds, as simply feeding additional compound instead would cost around 30-40% more, plus increase the risk of acidosis.”

Investment in feeding

Additional autumn feeding should therefore be seen as an investment in winter production, not a cost to be cut, starting as soon as grass dry matter intake (DMI) starts to drop off in early July due to the reduction in daylight hours limiting grazing activity (figure 1).

Figure 1 – Variation in daylight hours and grass dry matter intake through the grazing season (click to enlarge)

“In July and August, grazing quality will still be high, at 18-22% DM, 11.5-12.0MJ ME/kg DM and 20-25% crude protein,” explains Dr Sutcliffe. “But not only is maximum potential intake restricted by falling daylight hours, but consistently achieving that maximum also becomes increasingly difficult as the weather deteriorates.

“…don’t overestimate the value of grazing for higher yielders.”

“So make the most of low-cost summer grazing by fully utilising it for those cows over 150 days in milk, aiming to maintain yield whilst controlling BCS in order to dry off at BCS 3.0 rather than 3.5 or more. Just don’t overestimate the value of grazing for higher yielders.

“Daily DMI typically falls by half between late May and mid-September, at which point it’ll be supporting little more than maintenance plus 5-6 litres/cow. Remember that any of the seasonal calving herds focussing on maximising milk from grazing will have been in milk for 150-200 days by mid-August, so the declining potential yield from grass alone closely fits the cows’ falling lactation curve.”

Support higher yields

Any cow producing more than this will either need additional feed, or will draw on body reserves to make up the shortfall. If high yielders fall below BCS 2.5, there can be knock-on effects for milk production, fertility and health in the months before Christmas.

SugaRich Dairy feed
Confectionery blends like SugaRich Dairy supply more balanced energy than in cereals

“Ideally, split the herd from August onwards so that high yielders can be supplemented separately and kept in overnight if necessary,” Dr Sutcliffe advises. “Ration palatability is important to help maintain intakes, so include a moist feed like Traffordgold wheat-gluten moist feed or brewers grains, or a liquid feed such as Molale or Rouxmolflo Plus.

“Digestible fibre helps support rumen function to reduce the risk of acidosis and maintain milk butterfat content – particularly if there’s a flush of grass in late summer – so consider using sugar beet feed or soya hulls. Where starch energy is needed, Soda Wheat is a more rumen-friendly option than cereals, or make the most of the value offered by co-products like processed bread or the various confectionary blends, such as SugaRich Dairy.”

Better value protein

Feed only good quality forages – including a cereal or maize silage if possible – and for the additional high quality protein needed to support high yields, Dr Sutcliffe recommends using NovaPro heat-treated rapeseed expeller as a significantly better value source of rumen-bypass protein than hi-pro soyabean meal.

“Aim to set up both the cows and the feeding system ready for winter housing. So rather than feeding an extra 5-6kg of concentrate in the parlour, add 4kg to the buffer ration and feed just 1-2kg during milking.

“It’s not only better for the bottom line, but it’s also better for the cow, and that will translate into more milk and an even better margin over feed costs.”

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For more information:

Call 01977 710 940 or email info@kwalternativefeeds.co.uk

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