Top 5 Tips For Fall/Winter Dairy Feeding Program

Top 5 Tips for Fall/Winter Dairy Feeding Programs

1. Forming A Plan

It is important to form a plan for using homegrown forages and to determine whether it is required to purchase other forages.

In order to form this plan, first, all forages have to be sampled and the representative samples should be sent to a forage testing laboratory in order to determine the nutrient contents. The forage samples taken at the start of feeding session can be used as a starting place for balancing rations. After that, it is important to continuously take several samples throughout the feeding session and combine their results in order to get a more accurate information regarding the nutrient content of the forages being fed. It is important to remember that single samples are not a good representative of the nutrient content of forages.

At the same time, it is important to take an inventory of each forage as well as commodity in storage. By having this information, it allows the farmers to allocate forages stored separately to various groups of animals and at the same time determine shortfalls. Hence, forages can be purchased or other feedstuffs can be added to the rations being fed. A good example to illustrate this is when you have corn silage from 3 different hybrids but the hybrids are stored in a single bunker silo, this means that you have 900 tons of corn silage instead of 300 tons of each hybrid. If each of the hybrid is stored in a separate bag instead, then it means you have a separate feeds with 300 tons of each. It is highly recommended to reserve the highest-quality forages (in this case, it is usually hay) for heifers less than 4 months of age or for high production groups of cows. With this information, it is much easier to balance rations for the milking herd, dry cows, and heifers raised in the dairy farm.

2. Balance The Feed Ration

It is good practice to use inventory and forage analysis to balance rations for all groups of cattle.

What the dairy cattle need are nutrients instead of ingredients in order to support body maintenance, increase milk production and growth. Rations that are balance will be able to provide sufficient nutrients to the animal with least cost. By combining forages with various other commodities, the cow's nutrient needs can be met while reducing cost. Although the savings may seemed small, but if balance rations is provided for dry cows and replacement heifers as well, the savings would definitely add up and help improve the cash flow of the farm. 

Due to the high volatility of commodity feed prices, dairy farmers should constantly follow the ingredient prices and reevaluate feeding programs constantly. It is also a good idea to reevaluate the amount of starch and protein present in the feed ration. Sometimes, nutritionist will revise the nutrient parameter when balancing the feed rations. If these steps are done correctly, it will help to decrease feed costs and at the same time have a positive impact on the environment.

The diets for lactating dairy cows, heifers, as well as dry cows are balanced in order to provide a certain amount of each nutrient delivered through a certain amount of dry matter of each feedstuff. The main factor used to determine the amount of each ingredient to be added into the TMR mixer or fed to individual cows is the dry matter content of each feed. With wet feeds such as silages or wet commodities, the dry matter content vary to a large extent within storage structures, loads, as well as storage time of various feeds. In order to account for such a large variation, it is highly recommended to measure the dry matter content of these feeds weekly, if not more often and make changes when it is necessary to the amount added to the TMR mixer. Typically, the changes would range between 2-5%.

3. Reevaluate Feeding Practices

Here are some points to consider when reevaluating feeding practices:

  • It is highly recommended to allow lactating cows access to feed bunk with a minimum of 20 hours a day. Minimising time away from feed will enable the cows to eat more, thus, increasing growth rate. 

  • Ensure that the cows are fed a consistent ration at a consistent time each day.

  • Uneaten or unfinished feed should be frequently removed from the feed bunk, ideally daily. Lactating cows should be fed around 1-2% of their daily intake left after a 24-hour feeding period. 

  • There should be sufficient amount of feed provided within the entire feed bunk at each feeding for the lactating herd.

  • Ensure that the waterers are cleaned multiple times every week and scrubbed at least once a week using a brush and weak chlorinated solution.

  • Make sure that there is enough bunk space for the cows to avoid overcrowding. Ideally, 24 inches of bunk space should be allocated for milking herd per cow. As for fresh and close up dry cow groups, recommended space is 36 inches per cow.

  • When temperature is high (20°C and above), turn on the fans.

  • The TMR mixers need to be serviced and adjusted frequently in order for the feeds to be added. Ensure that the TMR mixer is not overfilled. When adding the mixtures, make sure it is not over or under-filled. Mixing quality of TMR should also be constantly evaluated.

  • Bunkers and silage storages should be kept clean. 

  • Important to ensure that dairy cows are consuming a similar amount of feed as suggested in balanced ration. Daily or weekly refusals by the cows need to be weighed in order to assess the consumption by the herd.

4. Working Closely With Nutritionist And Consultants

It is a good idea to work closely with nutritionist and consultants to help improve the feeding and overall management plan throughout the feeding season. Often times, farmers neglect to understand feeding and nutritional concepts. By taking initiative to understand the nutritional concepts and making minor adjustments to the feeding plan, it will definitely help improve the farm's bottom line.

5. Planning For The Future

It is important to start planning for the next cropping season. Now is a good time to evaluate and analyse whether it is necessary to make changes to the cropping system or forage purchasing plans next year. 

By using forage analysis, review whether your current harvesting techniques have resulted in high quality forages which is essential to feed the high producing dairy cows. If change is needed, start making a plan to incorporate these changes into next year's cropping season.

Other areas that needs to be reevaluate includes:

  • Varieties planted

  • Timeline for harvesting

  • Methods of harvesting