Rocketing feed and input costs mean many dairy producers will be looking to extend grazing periods and make more use of forage this summer, but if margins are to be achieved it is crucial that grazing is balanced with the correct nutritional supplementation, UFAC-UK said.
With high production costs putting extreme pressure on margins, the temptation is to consider ways to reduce feed costs, but producers are reminded it is vital that grazing is measured and managed, so it can be balanced with the correct buffer feeding, to maximise DMIs and margins.
“Don’t over-estimate the nutritional supply from grazing alone. While purchased feed prices continue to rise, so too have milk prices,” said UFAC-UK ruminant technical manager Mike Chown.
“Rather than thinking ‘what can I save if I cut something out of the ration?’, consider what returns you will get if you spend a little more, or indeed, what do you risk losing if you cut something out.”
Mr Chown said the promotion of efficient use of grass by precision feeding can help increase milk from forage. He advises farmers to focus on what they want the cows to achieve, and consider how they can harness seasonality benefits alongside the nutritional supplementation required to support grazing.
“We want cows to graze efficiently and to milk in a way that can achieve those best returns, through a combination of good quality milk and hitting the profile,” he explained.
“To maximise forage DMIs, we first need to know what we are feeding, so we should regularly analyse all forages, and balance them with the correct nutrients, such as structural fibre, sugar, starch, rumen protein, by-pass protein and rumen inert fatty acids.
“We must ensure speed of break down in the rumen is matched, while at the same time, paying attention to acid loading and rumen pH. This will optimise rumen microbes to promote fibre digestion and intakes, most cost-effectively.”
Once microbial protein and VFAs (volatile fatty acids) from the rumen have been optimised, Mr Chown said adding ‘little bombs’ high in the specified nutrients, such as rumen inert/bypass proteins and fatty acids, will help meet the cow requirements. Forage rations are typically low in these.
“When doing this, it is important that every purchased feed is most cost-effective for the nutrient it is contributing to, for example, not just looking at crude protein, but also looking at the cost of rumen degradable and rumen undegradable protein such as amino acids,” continued Mr Chown.
“Finally, we need to keep cows healthy and fertile and meet her specific requirements through her production cycle, so when looking at cutting feed costs, we need to ensure we target the correct animals and look after the transition and early lactation cows until confirmed in calf.”
Mr Chown said suitable adjustments and additions to dairy diets can have a big impact on performance, health and fertility, and therefore margins.
He added: “Particularly when cows are at grass, maintaining milk yield, quality, fertility and mobility are a challenge, so when feeding for a return, a correctly balanced rumen inert fat acid supplement has an essential role in these diets.”