Rapid on-farm forage analysis brings real-time benefits

New NIR (near infra-red) technology to rapidly analyze feed nutrients allows dairy producers to calculate forage dry matter, moisture, fiber, starch and protein right on the farm.

In turn, dairy producers now have the opportunity to improve the way they feed cows.

On-the-farm NIR feed test technology gives them the ability to adjust rations in real time and on-the-fly.  This allows producers to precisely match nutritionists" feeding recommendations on-site each and every day.  The technology can measure the percentage of dry matter, crude protein, starch, ADF, NDF, crude fat and ash in seconds. Options include an analyzer that can be mounted in the payloader bucket or a portable unit the size of a suitcase.

Here are just a few ways on-farm NIR feed analysis can change dairy nutrition, versus sending samples to an off-farm lab:

Enhancing Analysis

  • Test forage samples taken by hand directly from the bunker or silo, or when chopping hay in the field to adjust chop length as needed
  • Get real-time, immediate feed test results in under 60 seconds
  • NIR units are easy to use – test more often, as many times per day as desired, at no extra cost
  • Spot-test forage samples from different bunker or bag locations; get an average dry matter reading for mixing forages lots at the TMR
  • Make diet changes proactively, rather than reactively
  • Track dry matter and nutrient changes to predict future feeding programs and plan supplement use in advance
  • Monitor the quality of off-farm purchased hay and by-products
  • Same-day testing after a major rainfall measures changes in dry matter content, opens the door for dry matter adjustment at the TMR and avoids dips in production that can take days or weeks for the cow to recover

Benefits of Ration Consistency

  • Result is greater TMR consistency feeding-to-feeding – consistency cows crave
  • Consistency results in more milk and milk components; some nutritionists have seen an additional 1 to 3 pounds of milk per cow per day
  • Improved overall cow health
  • Rapid payback, especially in larger operations – as few as 3 to 6 months
  • Business opportunity for nutritionists to provide on-farm NIR analysis

 "If I was a feed consultant or nutritionist I"d be pretty excited about the opportunity to have one of these," says Dr. Randy Shaver, Professor of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin. "The reason we were interested in on-farm NIR was measuring the dry matter content of silages coming out of the bunker. We have been trying to do a better job of keeping all our rations consistent on a day-to-day basis.  The more times test samples are replicated, the more precision that can be attained, Dr. Shaver says.

 "Dry matter content changes as you go through the bunker, and when you have rainfalls, that can really affect dry matter content. And that is how most people initially will use this technology, to do more frequent measurement of dry matter content on a daily basis," he adds. "Rain events can affect dry matter and depress milk production, so knowing moisture content allows one to adjust rations accordingly," Dr. Shaver says.

Study compares on-farm NIR to oven method

Dr. Shaver"s graduate student, Matt Akins, presented a paper "Evaluation of On-Farm Forage Dry Matter Determined by Near Infrared Spectroscopy" at the 2012 American Dairy Science Association conference in Phoenix. They have conducted their research using the portable AgriNIR™ Portable Analyzer for Forages from dinamica generale US, Inc.

The objective of the study was to evaluate the use of near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) for on-farm measurement of forage dry matter content, Dr. Shaver says. The NIRS measured protein, NDF, ADF, starch, ash and fat, but only compared dry matter content to results from an oven method. The 11-week study measured 94 corn silage samples from six silo bags and two bunkers, and 20 alfalfa silage samples from one bunker, using the oven method and the NIRS.

"Overall, the on-farm NIRS measured dry matter content comparable to the oven method," the study concludes.

Goal is TMR consistency

Evaluating forages more consistently and frequently means more consistent TMRs, says Tom Oelberg, Regional Sales Manager, Diamond V. "I would envision sampling the TMR 10 times for each load if needed."

TMR audits are another use. "When we make changes from a TMR audit to improve consistency, we"re seeing a 1 to 3 lbs increase in milk production and a point or two improvement in milk components.  It can have a huge economic impact, especially in the larger operations."

Kurt Ruppel, Cargill Technology Leader, agrees. "If a change in a major ingredient is varying a half a percent, it can mean 20 cents per cow per day," he says. "If a major ingredient is varying a lot, we want to know why. Constantly changing the nutrients delivered to the cow creates inconsistent production and reduced feed efficiency."

According to a 2012 Ohio State University study, substantial day-to-day variability in dry matter, NDF, CP and starch in corn silage and haycrop silage is very large and often as great as month-to-month variation. Over the course of the day-to-day variation, specific nutrients, such as starch, did not follow any discernable pattern.  Because diets are formulated on a dry matter basis but delivered on an as-fed basis, a deviation of dry matter could substantially alter the diet composition in just one day.

The study concluded that single samples should not be relied upon to provide an accurate description of the feed, and substantial changes in diet formulation should not be done on results from a single sample. Duplicate samples taken on a single day reduced day-to-day variability, but the costs of sending multiple samples to a lab for analysis on a daily basis would not justify the added expense.

Precision for Every TMR Mixer Load

The dg precisionFEEDING system NIR Analyzer can be mounted in a payloader bucket to measure feed as it is moved from a concrete bunker or plastic storage bag.  Each bucket is measured for dry matter content.  Load weights are instantly adjusted to ensure the prescribed ration is constructed.

This NIR technology can be incorporated into a full feeding management system to aid dairy producers and their nutritionists. In addition to the NIR Analyzer unit, other pieces of the complete system includes a fully computerized feeding system that reads DM and nutrient values of forages, and automatically adjusts rations on the fly at the TMR; professional feed management software; and a remote control, high-tech weighing controller that wirelessly receives data from the NIR Analyzer.

With an on-farm NIR feed analysis unit, it is more feasible and cost effective to do multiple feed samples in a given day. The nutritional variances that occur in certain feeds over a short period of time can be identified and corrected immediately.

The end result is greater feeding-to-feeding ration consistency, fewer refusals and better management of weather events.  Consistency results in improved overall cow health, and more milk and milk components. Some nutritionists have seen an additional 1 to 3 lbs. of milk per cow per day.  Due to these benefits, payback for a portable NIR analyzer in larger dairy operations can be as short as 3 to 6 months.



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