Striking a Balance in Dairy Rations

Feed expert recommends formula concept when putting together rations for your herd.

Reducing your feed cost remains one way to keep more money on the farm. Mike Hutjens, a renowned University of Illinois dairy feeding expert, recommends the concept of a 55-30-15 formula for balancing rations in the coming months.

The 55 refers to the recommended percentage of forage dry matter in the ration. As a general rule, a cow will consume 13 kilograms, or 28 pounds, per day of forage dry matter.

The ration's concentrate should equate to about 30 per cent. This is usually made up of corn, barley, soybean meal, distiller's grain, other protein sources, vitamins, minerals and possibly some high energy source.

This leaves about 15 per cent of the ration, or about three to four kg of dry matter, to adjust to high prices and poor quality.

A nutrient-dense feed should make up some of that 15 per cent for high-producing cows, Hutjens recommends. This could be grain corn, barley, oil or heat-treated soybeans.

Forages should make up the majority of the 15 per cent for the rest of the cows. Forages are cheaper per unit of energy or protein than grain corn or soybean meal in the feeding program.

But the balance of that 15 per cent must be measured against the quality of the forages. Limiting corn silage to 75 per cent of the total forage dry matter is a safe guideline, according to Hutjens. Feeding more can impact on the rumen forage mat, especially if the corn silage is improperly chopped. As well, pay careful attention to the amino acid profile and balanced starch fermentation rates to avoid acidosis.

Look at feeding only 1.0 to 1.5 kg of average-quality forage, enhanced by byproduct feeds such as beet pulp, corn gluten feed or wheat midds for the balance.

Know your basic feed costs. According to the Ontario Farm Management Analysis Project, the 2007 feed cost per cow averaged $5 per day year-round. Can some feed efficiencies help lower this? For instance, steam-flaked corn has 10 per cent more available energy than cracked corn. Is the price less or more than 10 per cent to purchase?

High grain prices make forages an even more key component of rations. This year the quality may have been challenging, but the higher the quality of your forage, the more you can put into the ration, and the easier it is to get milk from your cows.

This article appeared in the November 2008 Ruminations column of the Ontario Milk Producer magazine.

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