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Dietary decisions


Balancing rations is crucial if winter diets are to be tailored for performance and profit 

With winter around the corner, the challenge will be producing milk profitably as costs continue to escalate. Spring and summer months have been somewhat difficult, both from a grazing and forage ensilability aspect. The colder spring combined with drought conditions throughout July and August, impacted significantly on grass growth, with conserved fodder being utilised - especially within the east of the province. The recent warm temperatures and rainfall has provided an ideal surge in growth, perfect for extended grazing taking the pressure off silage stocks, but this also comes with a warning on those fresh cows still at grass. 

The saying “thin cows equals thin milk” will resonate with many producers moving forward and with a greater focus on milk quality, it’s vital producers not only stay out of penalties, but also achieve milk quality bonuses as well as safeguarding high standards of herd fertility. 

Step One in winter preparation will be to analyse silage and calculate total fodder quantity to allow diets to be balanced as closely as possible. Table 1 shows current average silages for 1st and 2nd cuts analysed to date (400+ samples). The general trends suggest reasonable dry matter and energy values with lower crude protein levels; however, the range is more diverse, so it is vital you have silage analysed as a starting point with careful monitoring of cow health and performance throughout the forthcoming months. 

To date there are two scenarios that stand out. 

Scenario 1; The early silage cut, primarily observed on the multicut systems, show a highly digestible, low fibre (NDF) with higher lactic acid. In contrast, the second scenario includes silages with lower digestibility, higher dry matter and higher NDF levels.

Regardless of silage type, careful balancing is required to minimise diet changes, to ensure acidosis and displacements can be avoided, but also from a performance aspect to ensure litres and quality are not compromised. Those leafy silages (as in scenario 1) will ideally require wholecrop/maize/straw and/or a combination of a high digestible fibre nut/blend to help aid silage retention within the cow, reducing the rumen flow rate and the chance of loose manure and cows that are potentially suffering from sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA).

Scenario 2 silages; (dry /stemmy silages) will require those more expensive glucogenic type diets high in starch to boost the rumen bugs. This is vital as glucogenic diets drive milk yield, enhance milk composition, and reduce days anoestrus (days not cycling). If glucogenic nutrients are not supplied in the cow’s diet they will be mobilised from body tissue and the cow essentially will “milk off her back.” The inclusion of protected fats to increase overall energy density of the ration may also be a benefit, especially on the silages with lower Metabolisable Energy (ME) values.

Within the Thompsons’ winter compound nut range, proteins vary from 15% to 21%. In addition to the glucogenic type diets the Peakmaster HDF range - with higher digestible fibre levels to complement the lower NDF values - has been extended to include higher proteins suited to this year’s lower crude protein in silage. These rations may also prove valuable as they can be fed safely at higher levels, so may also feature where forage saving is required. Across the ranges value added products will feature (depending on the ration), with protected fat, Rumitech365 and Availa 4, all of which have been trialled and tested locally.

Each herd must be assessed and addressed as an individual and all factors from silage to genetics taken into account. The added option of tailored blends will ensure that all forages can be balanced to maximise performance. For nutritional advice or help in calculating forage stocks, contact your local sales rep or a member of the technical team on 028 9035 1321.

Winter Ready

Living in Northern Ireland, we know that weather conditions can be very diverse across the counties, which ultimately affects ground conditions and the available forage for dairy stock. Silage results are highlighting this range and the need to balance diets and settle rumens for the winter, has never been more pertinent. We spoke to Smyth McCann, who is based in the Holywood Hills, to find out how plans are shaping up in preparation for the winter, in County Down.

The advice from Thompsons’ Technical Team, is to balance diets against the available forage and get cows settled for the winter, only making small tweaks to ensure performance is maximised, without upsetting rumens. This is something Smyth has perfected and with 180 cows still out during the day, he plans to ensure all stock are settled inside by the start of November. Using approximately 150 acres of first cut silage, mixed with a small amount of second cut and wholecrop silage, diets will be fed through the TMR - with few changes - until the cows go out again at the start of April. Silage quality has been a focus producing young leafy grass for ensiling with high digestibility and lower NDF to maximise milk from forage. The whole crop combined with feeding a tailored blend alongside the Peakmaster HDF compound nut range allows the overall diet to be balanced ensuring performance can be maximised without compromising cow health. Currently, cows are still enjoying their days out grazing, coming in at night content, with rolling herd averages of 9,300 litres, butterfat 3.98 and protein 3.20. With calving set to continue until Christmas, Smyth has a busy period ahead, but he is always aiming for a calving interval of 400 days. Producing quality milk, in a sustainable way, is something that motivates Smyth and also attracted the attention of a local cheese producer Mike, who makes ‘Youngbuck’ cheese from 10-15% of Smyth’s raw milk. Creating value added, consumer friendly products, is something Smyth feels is important, and the proof is in the success of ‘Mikes Fancy Cheese,’ who has created a successful online and retail business using locally source raw ingredients.

Simplify for Success

Nestled in heart of the townland of Eleven Lane Ends, County Armagh, is the 200 strong herd of Holstein Friesian cows owned and managed by the McQuaide family. The farming system has evolved over the years as herd numbers have grown, however with the yard being centred in the middle of a busy road intersection, walking cows to grazing had become not only labour and time consuming but also dangerous and the decision was taken this year to confine the herd.  

Sons Michael and James were very conscious that for this system to work financially, reasonable levels of feed efficiency needed to be maintained. The family take three cuts of silage using their own machinery in an effort to drive forage quality and importantly herd fertility is also a key area of focus. Currently the herd has an average rolling milk sold yield of almost 8,500 litres, at 3.90% butterfat and 3.30% protein with a calving index of approximately 385 days. Cows are currently housed in a single batch with first cut offered alongside 3kg of a dairy blend through the TMR and then fed to yield through the parlour to a maximum of 10kg. This year, as was the trend province wide, 1st cut silage making commenced approximately a week later than usual on the 24th May, with slightly higher levels of stem than usual and was recently analysed at;  28% dry matter 11.1 ME

11.8% Crude Protein 

47% NDFccess

With higher NDF levels and a greater demand for both crude protein and fermentable cereal to drive rumen function, Thompsons’ Cremets is currently being fed though the parlour, although the formulation of the diet will be kept under review as the winter progresses.  Michael and James have simplified their system and continue to do the simple things well. This emphasis alongside a solid nutritional foundation will stand the business in good stead for the years ahead. 

Posted 14,10,21 by allison.

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