Editor's note: Ueli Zaugg, dairy nutritionist from Fountain Hills, Ariz., handled the following case study.

Next time one of your clients questions the need for a nutritionist, consider this case study.

A fairly large dairy with 850 cows in the milking herd went nearly a year without seeing the nutritionist. With their nutritionist "missing in action," the dairy was receptive to the idea of changing nutritionists at the start of this year. A friend of their's (and fellow dairyman) recommended Ueli Zaugg, dairy nutritionist from Fountain Hills, Ariz.

The farm was run by a father and son, with the son taking on more responsibility. That was a good thing, because the son (in his late 20s) was receptive to new ideas.

One thing was clear: The father and son were disappointed in their herd's performance. The cows were averaging 67 pounds of milk, 3.89 percent butterfat and 3.18 percent protein. Their feed efficiency was subpar — 1.25 pounds of milk for every pound of feed consumed. And, the herd had higher-than-normal incidence of metabolic problems, mainly ketosis and displaced abomasum.

Zaugg believed that many of these problems could be addressed through nutrition.

While walking around the dairy, it became obvious to Zaugg that something was wrong with the alfalfa haylage in the pit silo. It reeked with the smell of butyric acid. And, he could see mold on the haylage. Obviously, the haylage didn't ferment very well — and it didn't help, either, that it had different layers packed at different points in time rather than all of it packed at once.

After two or three meetings, Zaugg was able to convince the producers to reduce the amount of haylage and rely more heavily on green chop. Alfalfa is grown year-round in Arizona, which made this a viable option. Green chop is now delivered to the dairy on a daily basis.

Zaugg also noticed some problems with the corn silage. The kernels were brown, which was a sign that the silage had overheated during fermentation. A lab analysis of the corn silage showed 30-hour NDF digestibility of 49 percent, which was a little below where Zaugg wanted it. The silage was negative for mycotoxin.

Given what he had to work with, Zaugg made these adjustments in the ration:

  • Cut back on the corn silage currently available.
  • Cut back on alfalfa haylage currently available.
  • Added more unprocessed hay.
  • Utilized green chop.
  • Used more sorghum silage.
  • Reduced the amount of corn by-products, such as corn gluten feed. In fact, he took corn gluten feed out of the ration completely. Corn gluten feed "doesn't bring much to a high-quality ration, in my opinion," Zaugg says.
  • Switched from steam-flaked corn to fine-ground corn, resulting in a $10 per ton savings on feed cost.
  • Reduced the amount of supplemental bypass fat.
  • Added a high-quality animal-based bypass protein.
  • Added an Aspergillus oryzae fermentation product and a yeast-culture product.

Zaugg broke the mold and started over. "It's definitely a different ration than these people were used to," he says.

Yet, total forage in the ration stayed around 45 percent, and total cost ended up about the same. The ration had higher-quality components at its core — thanks, in large part, to finding problems with the corn silage and haylage and reducing their overall contribution.

Production as of late March was 78 pounds of milk, on average, 3.75 percent butterfat (seasonal adjustment) and 3.15 percent protein. Feed efficiency improved to 1.5 pounds of milk for every pound of feed consumed. And the metabolic problems pretty much disappeared.

The producers are happy.

But how in the world did Zaugg convince these producers to make such a drastic change in their ration? After all, he just started working with them in January. Fortunately, the dairyman who recommended him to the farm in the first place was there to help lead interference. He told the father and son, "You had better listen to the nutritionist." It was a big advantage. Testimonials among peers are worth their weight in gold.

"There isn't much discussion anymore if I recommend something," Zaugg says confidently.