Dry Matter Intake

In the words of Professor Mike Hutjens, University of Illinios, “Don’t give up on dry matter intake”. He says further, “High dry matter intake solves a lot of problems on a lot of farms”. I could not agree more!

Nothing reduces immediate profit, converting feed dollars to milk dollars, than underfeeding. Most common feeds in our dairy industry are capable to being converted from 1 kg DM of feed to 2 litres of milk after maintenance is met. The math is fairly simple. Even feed at 30c/kg DM (barley) will convert to at least 60c of milk income. Obviously energy density of that feed does influence conversion efficiency. Nevertheless, the lesson stands; if you want to increase profit dramatically, then offer more feed to your cows.

From 16 years of production consulting and 25 years of dairy farming, I can assure you the average Australian dairy cow is 4 kgs DM underfeed. That’s 8+ litres! By our conversion factor of 1 kg DM feed to 2 litres of milk this would produce $1/cow/day more profit. Our cows have incredible capacity to make profit from converting feed to milk.

So why didn’t our cow eat the extra feed?

1) Without doubt, she did not have access to the extra feed. This is by far the greatest limitation to profit in Australian dairy businesses. While the lactation average for the last twelve months in the USA was 10,450 litres and ours is 5200 litres, yet we hope to compete with the USA on world markets, I can assure you the simple difference is feed intake; bar none. The preparation of Feed Budgets for our clients is solely aimed at optimising milk production which has direct relationship to profit, and worse (or better), by a multiplier coefficient.

2) Her rumen is full. Isn’t this what we’re aiming for? Yes, if the feed is balanced for energy, protein and fibre. No if the fibre level is too high and it spends long periods of time in the rumen being digested. Indigestible fibre especially slows down the rate of passage of feed through the digestive tract reducing total feed intake; and milk production. The monthly ration analysis we do for all clients has the goal of a balanced and productive ration to optimise milk production under feed scenarios throughout the season. This is also tempered by what we grow to meet the Feed Budget.

3) The cow stops eating for no apparent reason. This usually occurs from metabolic signalling within the cow’s system. Too much rapidly fermented carbohydrate reducing rumen pH, either clinically or sub-clinical (SARA). Grain is not the only culprit here. It can be rapidly growing pasture with low fibre, frequently cows go from the dairy (grain) straight onto turnips which are highly digestible. Silage feed in between these two will solve a lot of digestive limitations to feed intake. Our pastures have risen in unsaturated fats in recent years through plant breeding. The rumen must convert these unsaturated fats to saturated fats before being transported to the mammary system. An excess of fat will reduce intake, reduce digestion of fibre and in high excess, will crash BF%. Mineral supplementation is essential for health, fertility, but also appetite and feed intake. Good transition nutrition will drive higher peak milk and appetite.

If you want to improve the viability of your dairy business, call Tina in our office (0400 991 814) and she will arrange a ‘no obligation’ visit by one of our team for to explain our nutrition/production services to you. As Mike Hutjens says, “Never give up on MILK!” and never forget your farm is a business.

Calf Water Intake is Dynamic

A 36 kg calf will lose around 3.8 lts of water from its body in urine, faeces, skin, mouth and respiratory secretions each day. 4 litres of milk intake only provides 3.5 lts of water/day. Without additional water intake over and above milk, the calf will dehydrate and most likely die from disease having easy domination over a water-stressed system.
Add to this, a sick calf with diarrhoea will drink less milk, excrete more water and usually dies of dehydration. If you are feeding electrolytes to scouring calves it is necessary they either drink milk also, or calf starter grain to maintain energy intake or starvation will finish them. Initially, until the calf is drinking from a separate water source, filling the milk feeder with warm water within 10 to 30 minutes of feeding milk will drive water intake. Water temperature does affect intake. Research has demonstrated a 50% increase in water intake when close to body temperature.
There is a direct correlation between water intake and calf grain intake. Research has suggested between 4:1 & 6:1 ratio of water to grain intake. Taking an average of 5:1, our calf must drink 5 litres of water to consume 1 kg of calf grain. A good calf grain mix should supply more energy and protein than milk. Obviously, the faster we have calves increasing water intake, the more grain they will eat and their plain of nutrition (energy & protein) will rise rapidly. Accordingly, growth rate will also accelerate rapidly. By day 56 this ratio is closer to 2:1 through rumen development.
Calf grain intake plays another major role apart from simply increasing energy and protein intake. A course grain mix (as opposed to pelleted) will help increase water intake, but apart from that, starch from grain will produce Volatile Fatty Acids from grain digestion which drives the growth of rumen papillae, the absorption site of nutrient to the blood stream. The faster we develop rumen papillae the sooner the calf can be weaned as it will be capable of digestion solid foods then. We use calf grain intake as the indicator for weaning. A calf consuming 2 kgs of calf grain daily has developed the rumen sufficiently to digest solid feeds and can be weaned. There is a significant cost saving in both feed cost and labour to benefit from by early weaning.
Grain intake must continue to rise post-weaning as the rumen, although developed sufficiently to extract nutrient from grain mixes, it still cannot digest forage adequately to supply the necessary energy and protein for both maintenance and growth. Calves are unable to digest forage well before six months of age. Water intake remains the driver of post-weaning growth by its ratio of 2:1, water to grain, increasing the calf’s rising plane of nutrition correlating growth and development. Water quality also plays a major role in calf growth due to its relation to grain intake.