It is a common occurrence for a dairyman to feed a new crop of hay and test the first samples, only to realise the nutrient values or digestibilities are not what is expected.
When the quality of forage is not up to standard, then compensating for the shortcomings become critical. However, some decisions need to be made regarding:
1) Best way to properly balance for the required nutrients at the cow's current stage of production based on the forage based available at the farm.
2) How should one prioritise the inclusion of nutrients from available and cost effective sources.
3) Evaluating current production levels and condition to properly support the demand for current and future needs.
In order to overcome and compensate for the forage base shortcomings and prioritise nutrient delivery, it is crucial to find out what is most important for the given farm. Feeding program directly affects:
Components of milk
The above factors will directly affect revenue of the farm, whether in the short term or long term. Here are some of the things to focus on:
1. Forage quality
If forage quality is low, then it is important to look at the nutrients that are most limiting.
Normally, the limiting nutrient may include something as basic as protein.
Fortunately, these nutrients can be easily supplemented. However, there is still cost involved when trying to supplement protein.
Even when there are cost involve, the benefits for keeping protein components balanced far outweigh the cost.
2. Digestible fiber levels
Studies have shown the importance of various fiber components of varying digestibilities are to rumen fermentation.
Hence, having a forage base that provides these core components is crucial.
If the forage base does not have proper digestibility or rate of fermentation, then it is important to source for another fiber that will supplement the base fiber.
For example, if the forage base consists of corn silage and alfafa hay and this combination lacks proper digestibility, then perhaps sourcing for a grass or legume to obtain proper balance may be necessary.
It may also be worth evaluating more soluble carbohydrate levels such as sugar, starch, non-structural carbohydrates.
For the most part, these levels can be supplemented using fairly available sources such as corn, grain or wheat.
How basic grain is being processed will also affect digestibility.
Another option worth looking may include adding additives or rumen modifiers to overcome or offset poor forage base. However, do note that additives are not a permanent solution when base forages are inadequate.
Quality forage is still the most important factor when formulating a dairy feeding program.
There are a variety of replacements to fill the gaps when forage is not up to standard but each of those comes at a cost.