Now is the time to focus on a balanced winter ration especially for dairy cows. This Autumn it is probably more important than for many years as most 2021 grass silages are variably low in crude protein (CP) and Metabolisable Energy (ME). The price and availability of concentrates/straights is rocketing and uncertain respectively. At least the early maize silage analyses are looking encouraging.
Careful balancing of ingredients will be needed but when it is being fed the cows will tell us better than any software rationing programme whether this has been achieved. We strongly recommend Metabolic profiles via bloods alongside dung sieving (and possibly rumen pH and flora assessment where indicated) after 10 to 14 days on the full “Winter” ration.
Metabolic profiling involves measuring Albumin, Urea, Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and Non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs) to assess energy intake and balance. Overall protein intake and the balance of rumen-degradable protein (RDP) and fermentable energy (FME)within the rumen as well as the degree of fat mobilization are also measured.
Typically we sample animals at various different stages of production. This might include six animals 10 to 7 days pre calving (to assess transition ration); six animals calved 5 to 15 days (to assess energy balance which is often a pinchpoint at this stage of lactation – there is a shortfall in dry matter intake immediately post-calving relative to the energy requirements of rapidly increasing milk yield) and finally six calved 60 to 100 days (when dry matter intakes should be maximal).
Deficits in overall energy and/or protein and/or ERDP:FME balance will not only lead to poor yield and milk quality, but also adversely impact on fertility and the immune defense mechanisms of the animal. Overfeeding could be highlighted, especially of protein, which is both inefficient and costly.
Examination of the dung can tell a lot about the digestive process, especially whether there is acidosis (typically see undigested grains and poor fibre digestion) and/or hindgut irritation (mucin casts that look like putty) and/or intestinal damage (gut lining seen – usually due to more serious issues).
We might look at rumen pH and protozoal activity when the bloods and dung sieving indicate a need.
In mixed ration situations, ration sieving can also be done to highlight consistency of mixing as well as indicate sorting.
Finally, dry matter of the overall ration can be easily checked as intakes will be limited if it is too dry or too wet.
At the same time it is always worth re-assessing the trough/feed space available. Don’t forget the water trough space and volumes – I had one client recently change the water troughs from old narrow ones about 30cm wide to ones that were 1 metre wide and there was a lift of over 1 litre of milk, per cow, per day!
Water needs to be clean, as suboptimal water intake can impact on total yield – remember cows’ noses are 8 more times sensitive to odours than humans ones!
Mike Kerby, Synergy Farm Health, Veterinary Surgeon