FEEDING MODERN Holstein dairy cows is not difficult, but unless it is done correctly performance, health and profits can suffer.

David Beever told delegates at the farmers weekly and Keenan Practical Dairying Solutions conference that failing to feed Holstein cows well enough results in declining fertility and compromises milk constituents. It can also lead to an increased incidence of production disorders.

As a result, cow lifespan is suffering. “In the 1970s the average UK cow managed 4.78 lactations, today the average is 3.48,” said Prof Beever. “And we all think that’s great because it’s more than the Dutch and Americans who achieve 3.3 and 2.7 lactations, respectively.”

However, the key to improving all of these problems is not genetics, said Prof Beever. “Improved nutrition will yield quicker results than any change in genetics and is sustainable.”

It could save 1.3p a litre through improved feed use, 0.8p through reduced feed costs, 1p through longer cow lives, 0.45p through improved milk constituents, 0.86p through improved fertility and 1p a litre by improving herd health, he reckoned.

“All of that adds up to 5.41p a litre. Some producers may already be at the top of the tree for one or more of these constraints, but most can improve performance somewhere.”

One of the best performance measures is feed conversion efficiency (FCE), believes Prof Beever. “Simply measuring the amount of dry matter required to produce one litre of milk will show what can be improved. The best units can achieve 1.4 litres for every 1kg of dry matter.

“To achieve this cows need better balanced rations. In an 80-cow herd yielding 6750 litres/cow, an improvement of just 0.1kg equates to either a feed saving of 40.6t/year to produce the same amount of milk, or an extra 48,750 litres of milk for the same feed use.”

But extra milk in one lactation is only part of it. “Improving cow life is also important. An average replacement cost is 6p a litre. This means that unless a cow yields 30,000 litres in her lifetime then depreciation costs 10% of milk income.”

Nutrition can also be used to solve health problems, added Prof Beever. “Displaced Abomasums, milk fever and subclinical acidosis have all increased on UK farms.

“Many displaced abomasums can be solved by improving the level of structural fibre in the ration and milk fever is often caused by high potassium in diets and poor pre and post-calving management.”