Taking Steps on Feeding and More to Boost Output
When your forage quality is less than optimal, these ideas could help you boost milk production and profitability:
- Have realistic expectations. Low-quality forages are not the ideal dairy ration ingredient.
- Determine your cows' actual dry matter intake.
- Fine-tune rations and use your best forages for early-lactation cows.
- Have every batch of forage analysed and measure forage dry matter content regularly.
- Fine-tune your transition cow ration. Have your nutritionist balance rations for all groups.
- Select a grain that best fits the main forage's digestibility rate. If you don't have this grain on your farm, consider buying it. Grinding grain to optimum particle size is another fine-tuning tool.
- Minerals can be bound to fibre in forages. Stay conservative when setting mineral availability.
- Investigate the economic value of adding protected fat, enzymes and additives to your dairy ration.
- Focus on profitability, not just milk production levels.
- Since nutrition improvement has limits, focus on other strategies as well. Buying or keeping a few extra animals will probably do more good than overfeeding concentrate to the milking herd to increase milk production. Overfeeding concentrate can lead to rumen acidosis, which can induce several health problems.
- Instead of getting rid of open cows, keep them as long as they produce enough milk to justify staying in the herd, if they have no other significant problems.
- If udder health is under control and somatic cell count is acceptable, you may want to consider shortening the dry period. You can shorten the typical 60-day dry period to 35 days. Be careful with cows that receive antibiotic treatment at dry-off. Pay attention to the withdrawal period and err on the side of caution.
- Maintaining 16 hours of light and eight hours of darkness in the barn where the milking cows are housed can help boost production.
- Evaluate and correct any environmental problems. Cow comfort, bunk space and water availability can also affect milk production.
This article appeared in the November 2008 Ruminations column of the Ontario Milk Producer magazine.
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