Man­ag­ing feed­ing in a lim­ited fod­der sit­u­a­tion: Dairy

Irish Examiner - Farming - - AGRI ADVERTISING FEATURE -

IF A FOD­DER deficit ex­ists on your farm you should take early and ef­fec­tive ac­tions to stretch avail­able fod­der sup­plies. This will in­volve a com­bi­na­tion of early culling, fod­der pur­chase and/or con­cen­trate feed­ing. Where the nec­es­sary early culling has oc­curred and feed deficits re­main, in­di­vid­ual farms should de­velop a work­able feed­ing plan for the win­ter. This means weigh­ing up op­tions for pur­chased for­age and con­cen­trate feed­ing, plus as­sess­ing the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of feed space and rationing silage.

If silage stocks are more than 25% in deficit, pur­chas­ing ad­di­tional for­age to meet min­i­mum diet fi­bre re­quire­ments is ad­vised. The sim­plest so­lu­tion is usu­ally to source silage how­ever this may not be pos­si­ble for all re­gions. Tea­gasc have es­tab­lished a na­tional reg­is­ter of farms with feed for sale; if you are seek­ing to trade fod­der con­tact your lo­cal of­fice for de­tails. Although ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult to source this year, feed­ing some good qual­ity hay or straw is an ef­fec­tive way of meet­ing fi­bre re­quire­ments due to high dry mat­ter and NDF (fi­bre) con­tent. Dry dairy cows can be fed up to 4.5kg straw (or 6-7kg hay) per day plus con­cen­trate to bal­ance en­ergy and pro­tein, re­plac­ing over 70% of daily silage in­take. It is rec­om­mended to in­clude soy­bean meal as a qual­ity pro­tein source where dry cow for­age qual­ity is poor. Wean­lings will eat 2 to 2.5kg hay/straw to meet fi­bre needs. Bal­ance for en­ergy and pro­tein us­ing high qual­ity con­cen­trates. Where deficits are more mod­est, feed­ing re­stricted silage plus 2-4kg con­cen­trate is a good op­tion to re­place up to 20-25% of silage de­mand. This can be a sim­ple mix of ce­real plus pro­tein (e.g. bar­ley and corn gluten). If feed­ing rates are higher, par­tic­u­larly with milk­ing cows, in­clud­ing high fi­bre in­gre­di­ents such as soya hulls or beet pulp is rec­om­mended.

Dry cows will not sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce silage in­take due to feed­ing 2-4kg con­cen­trate, so it is very im­por­tant to ra­tion out daily silage amounts. Oth­er­wise there is a risk that cows will be over-con­di­tioned at calving and lit­tle if any silage will be spared. Weigh­ing silage blocks is ad­vised. Test­ing silage for dry mat­ter and qual­ity im­proves ac­cu­racy of al­lo­ca­tion. Of­fer fresh silage daily and es­tab­lish a good rou­tine from the out­set. Re­stricted silage feed­ing re­quires ad­e­quate feed space per cow. This presents a prac­ti­cal prob­lem on many farms. The rec­om­men­da­tion is to have 700mm of bar­rier space (7 cows per stan­dard bay) to al­low all cows eat at once. Wean­lings need about 450mm per head.

Plan for ex­tra space if needed. Peak ac­tiv­ity (>90% cows feed­ing) oc­curs when fresh feed is of­fered or pushed up. There­fore, if ex­tra space can be ac­cessed by a pro­por­tion of the herd at peak times it would be very ben­e­fi­cial to re­duc­ing bul­ly­ing. This may be as sim­ple as of­fer­ing silage in feed trail­ers/ring feed­ers in ex­ter­nal yards for up to 2 hours twice daily. Be sure to meet cross com­pli­ance cri­te­ria.

Fi­nally, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that time spent ly­ing down is one of the most im­por­tant mea­sures of wel­fare in dairy cows. Cows like to spend 9-11 hours per day off their feet which im­proves ru­mi­na­tion, hoof con­di­tion and over­all health. What­ever the plan to man­age feed ac­cess, make sure that cows have proper ac­cess to cu­bi­cles through the day.

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