Challenging, is how many people are describing the forage situation that has followed last year's drought. That's according to David Weakley, director of dairy forage research for Calibrate Technologies.
A number of issues have been plaguing the country this year. "You have water issues in the west, a late spring with delayed plantings, topped off by alfalfa winterkill in the Midwest and high hay prices – the list goes on," says Weakley.
As a result of these challenges dairy producers may have to deal with a lack of forage or potentially poor quality forages. To combat potential challenges that may arise this year, Weakley says dairy producers should look to ruminal neutral detergent fiber (NDF) digestibility.
"Traditionally nutritionists have looked to crude NDF to tell them about the forages their dealing with," says Weakley. "But through research, we're learning that it's actually NDF digestibility that is the more important factor." NDF digestibility provides insight on the speed at which forages digest in the rumen, potentially filling up the rumen.
"If forages are slow digesting the rumen will have a high fill potential, meaning more undigested forage will accumulate in the rumen. If the forage is fast digesting the fill rate will be low and less forage will accumulate in the rumen," says Weakley. Both of these situations – fast or slow fiber digestion, will have an impact on feed intakes, milk production and feed efficiency.
"If you don't account for NDF digestibility, you could unknowingly be negatively impacting milk production and feed efficiency," he says.
Weakley explains that if a cow consumes a diet containing forages with low NDF digestibility, the cow will eat less because the passage through the rumen will be slower. Although digestion of the feed ingredients will be higher and feed efficiency will be increased – if the low NDF digestibility has not been accounted for milk production may drop off. "If the nutritionist knows the NDF digestibility is too low, forage may need to be removed from the diet and replaced with purchased ingredients to maintain intakes and milk production," says Weakley.
Conversely, when forages are in tight supply or feed ingredients are limited dairy producers can add less digestible forages to the ration to fill up the rumen, increasing digestibility and feed efficiency of the diet. "Feed ingredients such as cotton seed hulls, cotton burrs or cotton gin trash can even be used in extreme situations," says Weakley.
"It's a balancing act between available forages, fiber digestibility and managing feed costs," says Weakley. "Knowledge gained from NDF digestibility testing can help you optimize your rations."
As the first rapid fiber digestibility test with an online nutritional calculator on the market, Calibrate Technologies delivers results in less time and precise insights to make ration recommendations to optimize fiber in the ration.