14 April 1995

Dairy profits need more than just good feeding practice

Feeding dairy cows for profit was the focus of a Royal Agricultural College workshop. Sue Rider reports

SUCCESSFUL feeding practice comes a bad fourth in order of priority for most stock.

So said independent consultant and Maize Growers Association chairman Gordon Newman, speaking on dairy cow feeding at the workshop.

First came genetic potential, developed by correct feeding. Second was the stockman, on whose behaviour, enthusiasm and diligence feeding depended. Third came environment, which not only included cow comfort but also feed presentation.

"Without any one of these feed use is impaired and without two profit unachievable," he said.

Careful selection of proven genetics would ensure successful feed use. But herdsmen had to be observant and know their cows as individuals. "Feeding is still more an art than a science, and behaviour and dung much more important than any computer. Dung must be inspected regularly to check what is going on in the cow, but we dont do enough of it." The ability of cows to lie down and cud for 14 hours a day was crucial to top performance as was care in the dry period. "The pattern of lactation is set up according to how the cow is fed when dry," he said.

Food had to be accessible and attractive. "No more mains fencers on self-feed faces." Water should also be freely available.

As for the diet, Mr Newman urged producers to remember they were "trying to stimulate rumen bacteria into a state of perpetual orgy". That made a regular feeding routine essential. A constant supply of fresh pasture at the right growth stage was one of the hardest things to supply and the skill of the few successful practitioners had to be admired. Paddock grazing gave the best result. "But too many of us are too idle to use electric fences," added Mr Newman.

Mixed forages increased appetite, unless the newly introduced material was inferior to the forage it had to replace. Mr Newman cited a second forage as a common success factor in high yielding herds (see box).

As for concentrates there was little difference between excellent low fibre forage and concentrate used to "top up" a ration.

&#8226 Top genetics.

&#8226 Stockmanship and motivation.

&#8226 Grass silage > 25% DM.

&#8226 Second forage fed.

&#8226 Fat controlled carefully.

&#8226 > 4kg a cow a day cereals.

&#8226 Variety of protein sources.

&#8226 Palatability, freshness, frequency.

&#8226 Degradability controlled.

Gordon Newman: Gird your loins to feed more grain to your cows.