By the end of June over 50% of the year’s grass growth has taken place and it is at this point we will start to see milk yield from grass decrease and the limitation of grazed grass becoming obvious.
A dairy cow cannot eat enough grass under normal grazing conditions to sustain a high milk yield for its genetic potential. For example, a cow producing 25kgs of milk a day needs to eat 20kg dry matter (DM) – physically very difficult. Therefore it is pivotal cows are supplemented with dense energy feeds to achieve their potential otherwise each cow will mobilise excessive body condition resulting in lower productivity. This is a management challenge for many farmers and if not controlled will have a direct impact on farm productivity and hence overall profitability.
As the season moves on it is very important not to over-estimate the value of the current grazing platform and to be aware that production from these platforms will be compromised, having an impact on milk yield and body condition. To bring this into context; a body condition score loss of 0.5, results in a reduced milk yield of two litres.
Buffer feeding is an excellent way to top up grazing shortcomings and it offers a solution to maximising the utilisation of grazed grass. The objective is to increase the total dry matter intake, buffer feeding according to grass availability and targeting cows that are expected to milk late into lactation. The target energy value from a buffer feed should be a minimum 10.5 MJ/kg ME.
The quality of the buffer feed is also an important factor to consider, as poor quality forage feeds will depress milk yield and composition. The aim should be to feed high quality forages, such as maize, whole crop or top quality grass silage. The addition of hay/straw will improve rumen pH and maximise forage utilisation.
A Balanced Diet
The most important nutritional advice I can offer is to make sure the diet is fully balanced for protein, starch, sugars and fibre. This can be achieved by incorporating a simple mix offered out of the milking parlour with some rolled barley, maize meal and beet pulp. It is very important to offer high quality feeds that will give a favourable milk response, i.e. for each one kilo of supplement must increase milk yield by approximately two litres per cow.
Otherwise supplementation will not be economically beneficial. Energy will be the key driver to extend the lactation length together with achieving a balanced diet for boosting milk yield. Depending on grass availability and stocking rate, the level of buffer feeding should be increased or decreased.
For further information or advice please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Connolly’s RED MILLS ruminant team.
- Buffer feeding