Archive for Dry Matter Intake

Management Intensive Grazing … Thinking Outside the Barn

One minute we are waiting for a long winter to make its way into the history books and the next we are noticing how it’s almost too warm to work outdoors comfortably. No doubt our working dairy herd is also feeling the effects of changes in the weather.  Too cold or too hot we must always be anticipating ways to recover any dollars that because of climate conditions have resulted in more expenses or less production.  Having said that, why then are we “surprised” by a change in the weather?

Perhaps it`s time to think beyond current the season and decide how best to tweak the three or five year plan. Factors such as costs, labor and profit margins might be telling you it`s time for a major change.  Before this year`s crops are all seeded, it might be a good time to make a dramatic change in your feed delivery system. Is it time to think outside the box stall or feed pen. Have you considered management intensive grazing (MiG)? This involves repeating periods of grazing and rest among two or more paddocks or pastures.

Every Line on Your Financial Statement Must Be Re-considered

When it comes to choosing to use a rotational pasture program, those who have mastered pasture suggest many questions that should be answered when considering grazing over confinement feeding of the dairy herd:

  • How much feed do you currently grow?  How much less will you need if cows are pastured?
  • What is the current value of feeding equipment – both growing and delivery —? Can you recoup dollars from selling?  What annual maintenance and repair fees will be eliminated?
  • How long will your current equipment, which won’t be as heavily used, contribute to your 3-5-10 year plan?
  • What current costs are applied to manure haulage?  What savings can be realized if cows are on pasture?
  • Fuel inputs could be dramatically lowered, with less planting, harvesting and feeding.
  • What are your current herd health costs?  If exercise and fresh air reduce vet, medication and staff health care inputs, what could that add to your bottom line?

Once you have an itemized list of potential savings, you have the opportunity to decide how that can be applied to your specific long-term dairy strategy.

Who is Thinking MIG these days?  What is Pushing and Pulling them to Pasture

  1. Farmers who are starting out or closing out.  If the farm supports sizable pastures, intensive grazing could be a good start-up dairy feeding plan for a farmer just starting in to dairying.  At the other end of the spectrum, it could have the same attraction as a way of downsizing from a long-term established dairy.
  2. Farmers who anticipate that high quality pasture forage can be provided for half the cost of stored forages.
  3. Pasture feeding is a requirement for organic dairy farmers.
  4. Purely from the financial side, grazing can make more money with less debt load.

Should YOU be Thinking MIG?

We often use the expression that a project or a purchase “ticks all the boxes”.  Before changing from confinement dairy housing to management intensive grazing, see if your situation gets a “yes” checkmark for each of these questions:

  • Does your farm lend itself to producing pasture as well as or, more than, cropping?
  • Can you accept a lower herd average than average for the top half of confinement herds?
  • Are you willing to adjust dairy ration based on current pasture conditions?
  • Ready for a change in chores?
  • Is there adequate pasture to meet most of the daily forage needs for livestock for the grazing season?
  • Can milk cows get to and from the milking parlor as needed from the pasture?
  • Will you provide fresh water to ALL the paddocks?

And the most important question

  • Are you willing to change?

Oops! Make Sure You`re Not Harboring Misconceptions About Intensive Grazing

If you`re looking at grazing as a simple proposition of turning the cows out of the barn and onto fenced in fields as a huge savings in labor you may be misinformed.  Depending on the quantity and quality of the pasture and the size of your herd, you may actually be looking at the “intensive” part of Management Intensive Grazing could be the number of moves that must be made from pasture to pasture. Depending on the season there could be several every day. There is a definite skill in managing grazing so that it improves the soil, the legumes and herd health and that definitely does not mean out to pasture – out of sight – out of mind. As with any other dairy management problem, once you have named it (too many pasture changes) you are one step closer to the solution.  For some pasture managers they use a gate that opens electronically, thus reducing the number of times they have to work with fences.

From the Cows’ Perspectives do you have the BITE Stuff

When looking at pasture you may be taking in the size of the pasture when assessing how it will meet your herd’s nutrition requirements.  It is important that you are providing enough Dry Matter Intake (DMI). In a day on pasture cows take in approximately 22 to 28 pounds of dry matter. The best way to make sure cows are eating enough DMI from pasture is to pay close attention to the size of the bite of pasture they receive. Pasture height and density determines this bite size. If the pasture is too short, then they cannot get enough pasture in each bite to meet their DMI needs, even if given a larger area to graze.  Sometimes the obvious eludes our attention.  In the case of pasture grazing, we must accept that cows only take a certain number of bites each day and only graze for part of each day because they must also spend time resting and ruminating. Once you have determined that you have the required amount and quality of pasture, the challenge becomes how to get your cows to eat enough of it in eight hours to supply their production needs.  This is one reason to provide a new pasture, which is tall and dense, after each milking. When cows go into a pasture that is tall enough, they can rapidly fill their rumens with high quality high protein feed.

Mistakes and Pitfalls of Managed Pastures

In researching the benefits of using management intensive grazing, one can easily be won over to the benefits and overlook the potential downsides of this system.  As with any thing “managed” they are ways to do it well and there are ways to fail.  The latter can include the following.

  • Poor plant growth due to overgrazing damage.
  • Poor animal performance (including poor reproductive performance) and
  • reduced milk production
  • inadequate dry matter intake (DMI) from pasture or
  • incorrect supplemental feeding.
  • Animal health problems, particularly parasite problems.

And finally one with a term you might not be familiar with … yet.

  • “Untoward acceleration” is a term used by Andre Voisin in his book, Grass Productivity, to describe what happens when paddocks are not rested long enough between grazings. Each grazing of the paddock provides less forage and the regrowth period gets shorter throughout the grazing season until most of the plants are overgrazed and there is little or no feed left.


#1 Health Benefits

Health Benefits of Grazing Dairy Heifers Cornell data showed early lactation health problems were reduced in first calf heifers which were rotationally grazed for 5 months prior to their freshening date, compared to a duplicate group which was raised in confinement prior to freshening.  These results were consistent with previous research completed by the University of Minnesota from 2000 through 2002, which also compared raising pregnant dairy replacements in confinement vs. rotationally grazed. Their results showed that the animals raised in intensively grazed pastures had fewer post-partum problems than their counterparts

#2 Weight And Production Gains.

Weight and milk production gains with heifers raised on pasture compared to confinement have also been realized. In a study by Posner and Hedtke, 2012, (CIAS Research Brief #89), yearling heifers gained 1.97 and 1.86 pounds per day on pasture and in confinement, respectively. For ME Milk production, the first lactation heifers produced 25,328 and 23,415, pounds of milk respectively for those raised on pasture versus those raised in confinement. Thus, from reducing costs, increasing health and milk production, raising heifers on pasture makes sense.

#3 The Grass Is Greener and So is the Profit!

Studies prove rotational grazing of dairy heifers reduces the cost of raising heifers. This is where you really have to do your homework.  Get your hands on the best information, talk with recognized experts, and make sure all your decisions are well-informed.  Here are three links to help with your research: Dairy Farmer Profitability Using Intensive Rotational Stocking, Profitable Grazing based dairy Systems, and A Profitability Analysis of Dairy Feeding Systems in the Northeast.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Changing to Management Intensive Grazing is not rocket science. As long as your motivation is to do it well and not merely to dump current work that you don`t like doing, you will be fine.  Letting the cows out does not mean you`ve let yourself out of overseeing animal care. It does mean paying attention to nutrition and management details.  In the simplest terms there are only three steps.

  1. Do the analysis.
  2. Get over the paralysis.
  3. Go for it!!



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Global Warming and Its Effect on Dairy Cattle

Over the past few weeks we have certainly seen some extreme weather conditions around the world.  Those on the east coast of North America have been hit by record cold temperatures.  At the same time, those in Australia have been experiencing record hot temperatures.  These extreme weather conditions have many wondering what effects “Global Warming” will have on the dairy cattle  There has been lots of coverage in the media about  dairy cattle and their alleged contribution to greenhouse gases and how that is contributing to Global Warming.  Very little has been addressed about the effects extreme weather conditions have on the dairy cattle themselves.  One thing appears certain.  Extreme heat waves and cold fronts are the new ‘normal’.

As producers know, cow and calf comfort is one of the most important factors in milk production and growth.  As more and more producers are experiencing extreme temperatures, keeping their animals comfortable is becoming harder.  Drastic increases or decreases in ambient temperature affects animal production systems by affecting the health, reproduction, nutrition etc. of the animals and thereby results in poor performance, inferior product quality, outbreak of novel diseases, etc.  Dairy cattle are   more susceptible to increased ambient temperature than other ruminants, because of their high metabolic rate and the poor water retention mechanism of their kidney and gastrointestinal tracts.  Young stock are not immune to these weather stresses either.

Greater temperature shifts and shifts that are more frequent seem to be the most obvious weather changes that will have effects on dairy cattle.  It is forecasted that we can expect even greater atmospheric temperature changes.  Therefore these issues are going to come to the forefront.  The following are the five major impacts   that global warming will have on dairy cattle.

  1. Ambient temperature’s effect on Dry Matter Intake (DMI)
    When cows are stressed their Dry Matter Intake (DMI) decreases.  As the heat rises DMI decreases.  Feed consumption by dairy cattle starts to decline when average daily temperature reaches 25 to 27 Centigrade  (77 to 81 Fahrenheit) and voluntary feed intake can be decreased by 10-35% when ambient temperature reaches 35 C (95 Fahrenheit) and above.  Conversely, cows that are experiencing extreme cold weather conditions increase their DMI intake drastically, but instead of the consumption being converted in to milk production, a much larger portion of their energy is committed to their maintenance energy requirements.  Thermal cold stress conditions result in 20-30% more maintenance energy requirement and an ensuing reduction in the amount of net energy available for growth and production.
  2. Increased respiratory rate
    When dairy cows experience increased thermal stress, their heart rate rises.  The heart rate of the animal under thermal heat stress is higher to ensure more blood flow towards peripheral tissue to dissipate heat from the body core to the skin.  This increased effort takes much needed energy away from milk production.  Respiration rate of the animal can be used as an indicator of the severity of thermal load but several other factors such as animal condition, prior exposures to high temperature etcetera should be considered to interpret the observed respiration rate.
  3. Decreased conception rates
    As weather stress increases, dairy reproduction function decreases, resulting in decreased conception rates.  This is a result of thermal stress that causes imbalance in secretion of reproductive hormones.  High ambient temperature has also been reported to increase incidence of ovarian cysts.  Plasma progesterone levels in animals under high ambient temperatures are low compared to animals that are experiencing thermal comfort.  It has also been reported that high ambient temperature causes poor quality of ovarian follicles resulting in poor reproductive performance in cattle.  Fertility of cattle is also reduced due to low intensity and duration of estrus caused by reduced luteinizing hormone (LH) and estradiol secretion during thermal stress.  In addition, thermal stress also causes decreased reproductive efficiency by increasing the calving interval. Calves born from dams under thermal stress were found to be of lower body weight than those from normal cows.  Additionally the dams had reduced lactation performance due to the carryover effects of thermal stress which occurred during the prepartum period.
  4. Decreased Metabolic Responses
    Under heat stress metabolism is reduced, which is associated with reduced thyroid hormone secretion and gut motility, resulting in increased gut fill.  Plasma growth hormone concentration and secretion rates decline with high temperature (35 ºC / 95 ºF).  Ruminal pH is typically lower in heat stressed cattle
  5. Decreased Milk Production
    Reduction in milk production is one of the major economic impacts of climatic stress upon dairy cattle.  Decrease in milk yield due to thermal heat stress is more prominent in Holstein than in Jersey cattle (Read more…).  Decreased synthesis of hepatic glucose and lower non esterified fatty acid (NEFA) levels in blood during thermal stress causes reduced glucose supply to the mammary glands and results in low lactose synthesis, which in turn leads to low milk yield.  As mentioned earlier, reduction in milk yield is further intensified by decrease in feed consumption by the animals to compensate for high environmental temperature.  Actually 35% of reduced milk production is due to decreased feed intake while the remaining 65% is attributable directly to the thermal stress.  Other factors resulting in reduced milk production during thermal stress are decreased nutrient absorption, negative effects on rumen function and hormonal status and increased maintenance requirements.  These all mean that there is reduced net energy available for production.

To combat heat stress check out these articles (Read more: Are you feeling the heat?  and Heat Stress on Dairy Cattle) and to combat cold stress (Read more: COMMON SENSE, COWS and the UN-COMMON COLD of 2014!“COLD CALVES” – The Next Drama Coming to a Calf Pen Near You! and Cold Weather Effects on Dairy Cattle)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that the world’s temperatures are changing because of atmospheric pressure changes caused by Global Warming.  Warming or cooling of the climate system of the earth has multifaceted effects on animals.  Intensification and increased frequency of thermal stress due to global warming has the most prominent impact on dairy cattle and causes   different physiological, metabolic and production disturbances.  The importance of responding to thermal stress has been increased for dairy farmers in tropical, subtropical and even in temperate regions of the world due to atmospheric warming.  As these effects increase, it will be increasingly urgent for the milk producers of the world to provide environments that are able to combat these effects and offer the greatest comfort for their cattle.  Global Warming is actually Global Warning for the dairy industry.


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Are You Going To Make a Profit This Year?

Every day during this summer of 2012 dairy breeders are reading about or personally experiencing the challenges of feeding their dairy herd.  The articles in the press deal with the cost of corn and soybeans as well as the quantity and quality for forages preserved or available for purchase.  Since the cost of feed to produce a pound or kilogram of milk is usually 55 to 60% of the cost of production, feeding the dairy herd is extremely important.

In a recent article the Bullvine addressed key factors that contribute to profit on farm ( read Why Dairy Farmers Need To Know Their Key Performance Indicators).  However, for many dedicated North American dairy cattle farmers the immediate challenge is to implement steps that will contribute to or assist with profitability until we have another crop-growing season.  The following ideas are offered based on the results I saw from working with success farms participating in dairy farm management clubs.

A Check List for Managing

  1. Know your facts
    A saying often herd is “If you don’t measure, you can’t manage.”  So taking time to review the details on your last milk cheque, your current feed bills, your daily feed fed and the information for the past two years from your DHI printouts or from your farm management software reports, all are key to getting started.  Also critical to taking positive steps is the farm manager’s attitude to problem solving on farm.  Yes prices received and prices paid are important but most frequently they are mainly outside individual manager’s control.
  2. Output per Cow
    Simply put farms producing over 5 pounds or 2.3 kgs of fat plus protein per cow per day return between 25 to 40% more profit per cow per day than farms producing 4 pounds or 1.8 kgs per cow per day.  Filling the bulk tank with 100 cows producing 55 pounds (25 kgs) or 79 cows producing 70 pounds (32 kgs) is what this equates to.  Those extra 21 mouths to feed are paramount to profit.  Moving the lower producing cows to dry pens, selling below average producers for meat or buying of bringing in, take care to protect biosecurity (read more Biosecurity – How Safe Is Your Dairy or Biosecurity: Control What’s Coming In, Going Out Or Going Around), animal about to calve or recently fresh are all steps that will move the herd to more profit per milking cow per day.
  3. Dry Matter Intake (DMI)
    Average DMI of at least 50 pounds (23 kgs) of feed are achievable.  Herds with DMI’s over 55 pounds (25 kgs) make 15 to 25% more profit per cow per day than herds with a DMI of less than 44 pounds (20 kgs).  However, feed intake averages and profit per cow per day are not achieved by feeding the average cow.  Keys to achieving desired levels of DMI and profit are caring and grouping of cows and heifers three weeks before and after calving, feeding the highest quality forage to the cows producing the most milk and not overfeeding cows later in lactation in any year not just when feeds are in short supply or high in price.
  4. Feed Quality
    Without feed testing or knowing the quality of feeds, be it home grown or purchased feeds, decisions and corrective actions cannot be taken.  Managing for profit and using feed resources wisely depend knowing the products you are working with.
  5. The Heifer Herd
    Managing for profit is greatly influenced by how the heifer herd is feed and managed.  Not raising all heifer calves, feeding heifers according to their needs (high quality feed to heifers in their first three months), using milk replacer instead of keeping extra cows so calves can get be feed whole milk and breeding heifers to calve by 24 months of age all need re-consideration in times of tight feed supply, lower quality feeds, and expensive feedstuffs.  Having 0.7 or 1.1 heifers per milking cow can significantly affect profit through feed cost, labour costs and overhead costs. (read 10 Ways Cool Calves Beat The Heat)
  6. Manage Reproduction
    In times of high costs, lack of plentiful feed supply and pressure on the time to manage, managers take steps (often inadvertently) not to check as often for heats or eliminate regular visits by the herd reproduction specialists.  Current estimates run between $75 to $110 for every heat that a cow or heifer is either not bred on or does not conceive on.  Of course that cost is a function of taking more feed, more labour, more animals on-farm and more time to manage.
  7. The Basics are Important
    We all know how nice it is to have fresh air to breathe, our climate controlled and a fresh glass of clean water.  Well animals are no different.  Clean waterers, lack of manure build-up near animals and clean air all lead to high performance by dairy cattle.  Documented and delivered herd protocols are important and can be neglected in times of stress including when feedstuffs are in short supply.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Success in business very often is associated with managing to be ahead of challenges rather than in reaction to circumstances.  Profits on dairy farms depend on providing the crucial trinity, feed, environment and genetics.  Doing only two of the three is not sufficient.

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