Expert Answers - Feb. 20, 2009

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Answer provided by Al Kertz, Ph.D., nutritionist with Andhil LLC in St. Louis.

Q: My clients are pressuring me to cut feed and supplement costs. What supplements should I resist taking out?

A: I would advise not to short change cows on energy, first and foremost.

Three Golden Rules for dairy production were recently discussed (Mike Hutjens, Illinois Dairy Day program, January 2009) for those who intend to stay in business:

  • Rule 1: Never give up milk yield, as income will drop faster than expenses. One pound of ration dry matter can cost nine to 11 cents and can support 2 pounds more milk above maintenance. Reducing 1 pound of dry matter saves 10 cents, while losing 36 to 40 cents of milk income potential.
  • Rule 2: Keep up the components. Watch the effect of any nutritional change on components, and never make a change that gives up components.
  • Rule 3: Guard against feed changes that can impact the dairy herd long-term, such as reduced fertility and herd health. While lost milk yield and/or components may respond in several weeks after getting the ration corrected, getting cows pregnant, getting lame cows to walk, or reducing somatic cell counts can take months or an entire lactation to improve or lead to culling.

Each of these rules is quite dependent on the energy status of cows. Cows are like an energy bank in that they take energy in and use it in various ways, which then also determines what the returns will be. A key principle that cows follow is using energy to stay alive (i.e., maintain their body). Inadequate energy causes cows to deteriorate, not produce milk well, and deplete body condition. Health will be compromised and it will take time for them to fully recover.

This energy currency is interchangeable/convertible. If more energy for milk production is needed than consumed, either milk production decreases or body condition is lost to maintain or increase milk production. But cows may not be able to convert additional remaining body condition in an attempt to maintain milk production because staying healthy and alive has a higher priority than milk production. Likewise, reproduction may suffer when cows’ energy account is low. Milkfat and protein also require energy from their bank.

The greatest currency to use in this energy bank is dietary fat, as it has 2.25 times more energy than protein and carbohydrate. “Aspects that could be economically wrong decisions include removing fat and oil sources… (Hutjens, 2009).” Use fat sources that do not decrease DMI; otherwise, diminished milk production, milk components, and/or body condition may result.

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