Increasing dry matter intake in dairy cows is a measure of success for any dairy farmer and nutritionist, and these five points provide a basic platform towards this goal.
• Use forages of higher quality
Rumen capacity has a physical limit, beyond which feed intake ceases. Thus, to increase nutrient intake within the limits of physical capacity, ingredients of the highest nutrient value must be used. Cows are herbivores; only through forage quality can we maximize ration nutritive value whether grazing or feeding fermented forage.
• Avoid metabolic disorders
Cows suffering from metabolic disorders (acidosis, ketosis, milk fever, etc.) will respond to feed intake in the same manner as sick animals; they will invariably reduce their daily intake. So, it pays to take any and all measures to ensure lactating cows do not suffer from such disorders, which are usually prevented by proper diet design and feeding management.
• Limit fat in fresh cows
Following calving, cows will invariably mobilize body fat to sustain milk production, regardless of feed availability and quality. This mobilized fat increases circulation of fatty acids, the same way as adding extra fats in the feed. The physiological response of cattle to such elevated amounts of fat will decrease feed intake. If the ration contains added fat, then fresh cows will respond by reducing feed intake, as they cannot stop body fat mobilization. This is particularly important in fresh heifers.
• Condition cows pre-calving
Peak milk yield precedes peak dry matter intake by at least 5 to 10 weeks. This means early lactation is supported by body fat reserves, as dry matter intake cannot match requirements. To reduce the amount of body fat mobilization and enhance dry matter intake in fresh cows, pre-calving conditioning is recommended. This is achieved by using a transition diet about three weeks before calving. Such diet should be rich in fermentable carbohydrates to stimulate rumen absorptive capacity and increase rumen volume. It also helps reduce the incidence of ketosis at calving, which also affects dry matter intake.
• Use additives that balance rumen functioning
There are not many additives that work predictably in conditioning rumen functionality. This is because each additive depends on the conditions created by the total ration consumed by the cow and her physical and health condition. In general, sodium bicarbonate, yeast and yeast derivatives are the most commonly used additives. It should be noted that the use of additives is secondary to balancing the ration. Additives should be used to enhance dry matter intake and not fix problems created by improper rationing!
Presumably a nutritionist already takes care of the above issues, but quite often, for cost saving reasons some corners are cut. Modern dairy cows have a tremendous will to milk, and we must ensure we provide them with the best possible nutrition.
Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org or your local FCG office, to see how we can ensure your cows are expressing their full genetic potential cost effectively.