Dairy cows at grass© Tim Scrivener

Farmers considering upping production in response to slowly increasing milk prices should pay close attention to silage analysis results and cow signals this winter to ensure cows hit their potential.

That’s the advice from Robin Hawke, senior nutritionist at Mole Valley Solutions, who says with cashflow tight on many units, making the most of home-grown forage will be vital to cost-effectively drive production.

Reports from the Mole Valley Farmers team from across the country suggest cows are not milking as well as could be expected based on silage analysis. This is backed up by trends in national milk production levels.

See also: Advice on feeding silage to youngstock

On average, grass silage ME is down by about 0.5MJ/kg DM, but more notably, first cut lactic acid levels are about half that seen last year (4-5% versus 8%).

This means clamp fermentation is restricted, explains Dr Hawke.

“These fermentation acids help feed the rumen bugs, so if there is less lactic, there is less energy going into the cow. This may also mean whatever nutrients there are in the silage aren’t being preserved as well and are less available to the cow’s rumen.”

Dr Hawke advises farmers to look at cow signals.

“What are the cows telling you? Are forage intakes where they need to be? Are you seeing undigested fibre in the dung? Are butterfats or milk ureas higher or lower than usual?”

He says the actions taken should be farm specific and dependent on milk contracts.

“For example, if butterfats are constantly higher than usual and yield is lower, carefully feeding slightly higher protein rations with an increased supply of rumen fermentable energy may be the answer.

“This will get rumen bugs firing and digesting fibre more aggressively, thus promoting output. Alternatively, feeding more grass silage and less maize or wholecrop may work.”