Forage challenges? Higher grain diets may be the answer

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Forage availability difficulties have both dairy producers and nutritionists looking for options. Unlike in years past, higher grain diets may be the next best option economically these days. However feeding these diets can be challenging.

“Feeding a higher grain diet isn’t new by any means,” said Dr. Margaret Winsryg, technical support specialist with Calibrate® Technologies, based in Idaho. “Approximately, 10 years ago the dairy industry fed a higher concentrate than forage diet, but this is a trend the industry went away from, until recently.” Winsryg said that challenges surrounding water are one of the many issues behind the shortage of forages and the shift towards feeding a higher grain diet.

During what may be a difficult feeding atmosphere, knowledge and understanding of the effects high grain diets have on animal health and production will allow dairy producers and nutritionists to maintain an edge. Starch content, variability and digestibility are tops on the list.

Dairy producers and nutritionists who find themselves in forage deficit areas, and plan to feed a higher grain diet should keep an eye on the following areas:

1. Starch content variability of the ingredients used in high grain rations, as well as the digestibility of those ingredients. 

2. Forage neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFd) variation.

3. If you are feeding a high grain ration you could possibly be walking a fine line between efficiencies, milk production and animal health.

4. If starch variability in those feed ingredients goes down or up enough to change how the diet was balanced, and/or the digestibility also changes milk yield can be reduced, milk components could decrease, animals could go off feed, money could be wasted on unnecessary feed expenses, existing feedstuffs may not be utilized as efficiently as possible or all of the above.

5. If your forage quality increases, causing the feed to move faster through the rumen, total feed efficiencies can go down with the increased dry matter intake (DMI). This is something to keep a close eye on, says Winsryg. If the forage quality decreases considerably, DMI could be lowered and cows may not reach maximum milk production.

To mitigate any issues that may arise when feeding a higher grain diet, Winsryg suggests nutritionists and dairy producers use precise laboratory tests to measure rumen degradable starch and fiber digestibility.

“Knowledge gained from rumen degradable starch testing and NDFd testing can help you optimize your rations,” said Winsryg, “regardless of the feeding climate you find yourself in this year.”



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