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Plan Winter Dairy Diets Now To Benefit Later

20 July 2010

UK - Dairy farmers should plan now to make the best of available forages and ensure cost-effective and well-constructed diets are fed this winter, according to one leading nutrition specialist.

Peter Crawford, System specialist with Keenan Systems stresses that forage shortages will make diet construction a challenge, but believes there are still several options open to dairy farmers.

“Farmers I talk to generally agree that first cut grass silage yields are down by around 25 per cent, while second cuts have been no better than average in most cases,” Mr Crawford comments.

He maintains there is still time for farmers to make good some of the forage shortfall.

“With the recent rain prospects for third cut have improved and there is no reason what a good quality feed can not be produced. For many farmers wholecrop is still an option, although the recent increase in wheat prices means that standing crops will be more expensive.”

Maize crops generally look good and by adjusting cutting height farmers can increase the total yield to compensate for other shortfalls.

“The sooner farmers make a realistic assessment of total potential forage stocks, the sooner they can make informed decisions about what purchased feeds are required.

Where forages need bulking up, straw can be a valuable addition and there is still time to arrange to purchase straw off the field. Although straw prices are high, remember that 1kg of straw replaces 3 kg of silage and can be valuable in preserving forage stocks. Feeding 1.5kg of straw per day to 200 cows will save 27t of silage per month.”

Mr Crawford believes there is a real place for moist feeds this year, particularly pressed pulp which is an excellent energy source which will complement straw in diets. Products such as wheat distillers will be available but prices are currently high. He advises shopping around soon to guarantee supplies.

Purchased feed prices are currently strong but as yet supply of dry feeds does not appear to be an issue so farmers should be able to get the ingredients they require.

“Inevitably many diets will contain a wider range of ingredients this winter, and while it will be possible to construct nutritionally sound diets it will be vital to make sure the diets are correctly mixed to maximise intakes and feed efficiency.

“A correctly mixed diet will ensure a consistent feed is supplied to the rumen, leading to improved digestibility, better nutrient absorption and greater feed efficiency. Our research confirms that a gentle tumbling action, combined with non-aggressive processing of feeds and a length of mixing tailored to the ingredients in the diet can increase feed efficiency by over seven per cent.

“With forages likely to be in short supply it is essential farmers maximise the litres of milk produced per kg of dry matter fed,” Mr Crawford concludes.

July 2010

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