Feed costs are expected to moderate this year — at least compared to the sky-high figures encountered last year — but it is still vitally important to get the most out of every ounce of feed.
New technologies are available to help producers accomplish this. These technologies really get in there and analyze the feeding value of corn silage and other ingredients — and also spot inconsistencies, such as when a farm begins feeding from a new bunker of corn silage.
“On paper your ration might say a certain percentage of starch is available to the cow. But in reality it might be a completely different percentage,” says Jeff Harris, nutritionist with EPL Feeds in central Washington.
There are a number of traditional lab tests that help. But new technologies take it one step further.
Crude protein analysis on forages and key ingredients has been the normal approach by nutritionists over the years. Fiber measurements, particularly ADF and NDF, provide guidance on intake and digestibility. And, starch values are obtained on corn silage to enhance strategies to maximize energy intake, while also avoiding potential “starch overload.”
However, these approaches overlook the impact of the digestibility of key crude nutrients, points out David Weakley, director of dairy forage research for Calibrate Technologies.
“For example, higher dietary starch levels can be both safe and desirable if ruminal digestibility of one or more starch sources is low,” Weakley says. “Moreover, high-forage diets can produce very high levels of milk production, despite their lower energy density, if their ruminal NDF digestibility is high, allowing for greater dry matter intake, particularly with higher-producing cows. Therefore, knowing the ruminal digestibility of key nutrients can offer the opportunity to recommend an assortment of diets to meet current economic and ingredient inventory conditions,” he adds.
Here are a couple of case studies that illustrate this concept in action:
The following case was handled by Barry Dye, senior dairy consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition, LLC.
A North Carolina mixed breed herd — part Jersey, part Holstein and part Jersey-Holstein cross — expanded from approximately 300 cows in the milking herd to 840.
Even though the expansion involved a new free-stall barn, the owners felt that given the size of the holding pen and other potential bottlenecks, it was best to switch from three-times-a-day milking to 2X.