Buffer Feeding into the Autumn

Since grazed grass is still the cheapest form of feed available, any chance to keep the milking herd grazing through the autumn could be considered worth taking. However, this must be done with full knowledge of the limitations of autumn grass – and ensuring the overall diet is correctly balanced with other feeds so as not to compromise milk production or body condition score.

A drop in nutrient intakes in the autumn can lead to los sof body condition which can be very difficult to catch up on once cows are indoors on full winter rations. It is worth saving the best grass for the high yielding and early lactation cows, and use any low yielding groups to ‘mop-up’.

Maintaining dry matter intake is the key to successfully incorporating autumn grazing into the diet. When formulating an autumn grazing buffer feed, once again the same principles apply as those used in the spring.

Low dry matter grass will require additional digestible and structural fibre to maintain good rumen function, while high grass rumen degradable protein (RDP) levels will need to be balanced with additional energy and overall protein supply topped up with rumen-bypass  protein. This is where we recommended using either a 16% or 18% high energy dairy cube.

As energy will be the limiting factor at grass, it is important to offer an additional source of energy and a reasonable level of protein to offset the decline in protein contribution proportions in autumn grass. It is critical to extend the grazing rotation length in the autumn to keep milking cows at grass for as long as possible, in order to extend the grazing season. This must be done by the inclusion of extra supplementary feeds, whether it be in the form of forage or concentrates.

Forages high in fibre and low in protein such as a diet containing good quality grass silage, maize silage, wholecrop – or more effective fibre such as straw – can also be used. In terms of buffer feeding, this can completed before or after milking. This can only be completed if dairy cows have sufficient feeding space, easy access to grazing areas and are given enough time to get their gut fill.

Buffer feeding can also be completed in the milking parlour through offering concentrates or a coarse ration.