As the fields give up their harvest, it’s time to look ahead to what feed is available for the dairy herd for the coming fall and winter. Is a plan in place for how you will use your homegrown forages? Is there enough? What purchased feed will you need to cover anticipated shortfalls?
Before closing the file or deciding to make purchases, there are two steps without which all of your planning could end up going nowhere. These steps are ones that you cannot skip, ignore or overlook.
FIRST: Sample all forages and submit them for testing.
The success of your feeding program depends on knowing the exact nutrient content of your forage. This is where you begin to balance rations. Send samples to a forage testing laboratory. An often missed consideration is that you must make sure that the samples are fermented before having them sampled. However, testing doesn’t end there. Don’t bypass ongoing testing throughout the feeding season. “Single samples often do not accurately represent the nutrient content of feeds sampled.” Keep an up-to-date inventory of all forages, their source (i.e. what hybrid they are from) their storage location and current amount. According to nutritionists, an area that is often almost always overlooked, is that of keeping accurate records of home grown inventories.
SECOND: Using forage analyses Balance Rations for all Groups of Cattle
Of course, before you can balance the rations, you must determine how you will group your herd for feeding. Different age groups, stages, have different needs and meeting them in the best way possible is always the goal. You will have specific requirements for fresh heifers under four months into lactation and for early lactation, high-production and dry cows.
Stringent protocols for measuring wet feeds need to be in place as well. Dry matter contents can vary tremendously depending on the storage structure, load or storage time. Changes in the amount added to the TMR mixer can only be accurately determined if the dry matter has been measured at least weekly. More often is better.
NINE MORE WAYS to Get the Most Output from Your Feed Program Inputs
Once you have sampled all your forages, balanced the rations to meet your particular goals there are
Specific areas that you can fine tune to improve your fall and winter dairy feeding program.
- Study the Financial Variables
There is so much volatility in commodity prices that farmers must make it one of their jobs to constantly monitor ingredient prices and re-evaluate feeding programs. Keeping up with suggested changes by feed and nutrition experts can also have a positive impact by decreasing feed costs and positively affecting cash flow. Some changes may also positively affect the impact on the environment.
- Provide Optimum Access
The milking dairy herd should have the maximum opportunity to consume the nutrients they need for production. Ideally access should be available 20 to 22 hours daily, with no more than two hours in a holding pen. Multiple meals = optimum intake.
- Feed on Schedule
Cows are creatures of habit. Being fed a ration they are familiar with and getting it at the same time every day is the consistency that will yield results. Observe daily or weekly refusal to assess the consumption by the group of cows. Discuss any problems with the nutritionist.
- Improve Feed Bunk Management
Feed should be provided along the entire feed bunk at each feeding. Feed should not be heating in the feed bunk. Uneaten feed should be removed on a daily basis from the feed bunk. If you are feeding for an empty bunk, then feeding times will have to be adjusted accordingly and will require monitoring throughout the day.
- Properly Allocate Feed to Groups
Determine the group that can return the most profit from the forage. Early location and high production groups will yield the most profit from the highest quality forage. Mid to late lactation cow groups are the place for lower quality forages.
- Hygiene has High Importance
Waterers must be kept clean. This should be done multiple times throughout the week and then, once a week, use a brush and weak chlorinated solution (1 cup household bleach to 5 gallons of water). Rinse thoroughly after cleaning.
Keeping the face on the bunker clean and maintaining all silage storage structures will prevent heating and ensure the quality of the feed being fed.
- Manage Facilities
Avoid overcrowding. Provide bunk space at a ratio of 24 inches of space per cow. For fresh and close-up dry cow groups increase the bunk space per cow to 36 inches and one freestall or 100 square feet per cow.
Aim for a temperature humidity index below 68. Use fans when temperatures rise above 65 to 70 degrees F
- Equipment Maintenance
TMR mixers should be regularly maintained. Both over-filling and under mixing must be avoided. Mixers need servicing, and adjustment for the feeds being added and additions should be done in the correct amounts and order for the particular mixing. The use of a tool such as the Penn State Particle Size box can evaluate mixes. Watch that the forage particle is consistent over the whole bunk.
Everyone who has involvement with the production and delivery of the cattle nutrition program needs to be on the same page. Nutritionists and other consultants will work with your detailed information to develop and modify your feeding program. Although everyone will have a different level of expertise, the combined dialogue is critical, if you’re program is to be successful, sustainable and profitable.
Are you Doing a Great Job? Okay! Now Get READY for NEXT SEASON!
Using forage analyses, review whether your harvest techniques have resulted in the highest-quality forages that are needed to feed high-producing dairy cows. If not then you need to make changes. Next, complete a plan to incorporate these changes into next year’s cropping season.
- Crop variety to consider.
- Harvest time. Are you harvesting at the proper stage of crop maturity and proper moisture concentration?
- Is your harvesting method having a positive or negative impact on your forages? Are you using your equipment properly? Could you get better results by hiring a custom operator?
- Do you have the proper fertility for the planted crop? Are the nutrients provided to your crops available at the right time during the growing season?
The Bullvine Bottom Line
Dairy cattle produce best when they have the proper nutrients to support their health, production levels and growth. It can positively affect your bottom line if you make modifications to your feeding program that prevent problems and enhance the nutritional intake of your milking herd. Nothing is more important to your bottom line than feeds and feeding.