When it comes to managing rations for dairy cows, it is always better to be proactively making decisions versus reactively, according to Dr. Dwight Roseler, a dairy nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition in Ohio.
Roseler notes that evaluating feedstuffs with proper methods and having a ration model that predicts performance accurately are critical when looking into the crystal ball for future herd performance. “You want to be prepared and know what to expect from the forages and total ration that is going to be fed,” says Roseler. “Being proactive and looking ahead allows the opportunity to make better decisions about ration costs and income over feed cost.”
For example, if a herd is targeting a certain level of milk production and it knows through proper testing that those forages on hand are not adequate to maintain or achieve that production level, then a decision is needed to determine the best cost ration to achieve the most profit for the operation. In some cases, forages or byproducts can be purchased that complement the existing inventory to achieve best profit. Depending upon market conditions, the best profit scenario might be to feed the current inventory of forages and feeds.
Outside of just overall animal health and milk production potential, evaluating feeds ahead of time, can also help with budgeting and inventories. “Running the correct feed analysis at harvest can help decide how current inventories will be best used. Then running “best profit” rations into future months will determine strategies for optimal cash flow and profit,” he says.
Feed and forage testing
With a multitude of tests available to assist in evaluating forages and byproducts, it can be a challenge to determine which tests to run to make the best decisions. Here is a look at some of the tests and what insights they may offer when formulating rations and projecting budgets. The frequency of testing will depend upon herd size and bunker/silo size.
· Rumen degradable starch. Rumen degradable starch measures how much starch is actually available to the rumen microbes when the feed is fed. Rumen degradable starch tests give producers an idea of how their animals are digesting starch and what impact that might have on performance.
· Neutral detergent fiber digestibility
Neutral detergent fiber digestibility determines how digestible the fiber in an ingredient will be and as a result how much rumen fill there will be. Rumen fill has a direct impact on dry matter intake (DMI), diet digestibility and feed efficiency. In fact, research shows that a one unit increase in in-vitro digestibility of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) was associated with a 0.37 pound per day increase in DMI and a 0.55 pound per day increase in 4 percent fat corrected milk yield per cow.