Times of strife and high prices tend to bring out the creativeness in people. And, dairy producers and nutritionists can be amongst the most creative when it comes to their rations, says Kevin Leahy, nutritionist and technical services manager with Calibrate® Technologies.
“I’m starting to see some unusual feedstuffs making their way into rations,” explains Leahy. “Dairymen are looking for any way to cut costs and still meet the nutritional requirements of the animal.”
The challenge Leahy says is that sometimes there can be a cost to getting creative. “The nutritional needs of the cow may not be met, even though on paper it looks like the new feed ingredient should perform,” he says. And, any ration change that reduces milk production is usually not going to help profitability.
High feed prices and lack of available feed are the driving force behind some of the creative rations. But, producers may have a solution much closer to home than searching out additional feed sources. The solution, Leahy says, is rumen degradable starch.
Rumen degradable starch testing provides insights on how much starch is actually digested in the rumen from a feedstuff. The availability of starch impacts how much energy is accessible to the animal, which impacts how the ration is formulated. Different feed ingredients have varying levels of rumen degradable starch.
“Information from rumen degradable starch testing can give you confidence that the ration decisions you make will actually perform the way you expect them to,” he says.
Leahy explains that every herd and even groups within a herd have a level of starch that’s optimal for them. “Testing and finding out what rumen degradable starch level is optimal can open up new feeding options – whether it’s adjusting current ingredients to be more efficient or making a purchasing decision on a new ingredient or byproduct.”
For example, a herd that Leahy works with in Colorado was looking to make some changes to reduce ration costs. The herd was deciding between dry corn, which had a 70 percent starch level, and hominy that had a 67 percent starch level. The herd ran a rumen degradable starch test to help them make the decision. The rumen degradable starch level came back higher for hominy than dry corn.
“If you were measuring only the percent of starch, on paper the dry corn looked better, but looking at the rumen degradable starch level told us that the starch in the corn wasn’t going to be as available to the cow as that in the hominy and therefore would be less ruminally degradable,” Leahy explains.