12 April 2002

Mixed rations improve milk yield and health

By Richard Allison

ADOPTING a mixed ration system has increased cow milk yields by nearly four litres/day for one Derbys-based producer, without having to change feed ingredients.

Since Richard Mycock won a £21,000 feeder wagon in a farmers weekly and Keenan competition last autumn, cow yields have increased, compared with using a forage box to fill troughs.

"Cows are currently averaging 23 litres/day, despite being more than 200 days in milk, with a rolling average of 6157 litres.

"Milk sales for February were 650 litres higher than the same time last year when corrected for cow numbers. This equates to an additional 3.8 litres/cow, worth £120-£140/cow extra over a whole winter.

"Another benefit is that cow health has improved with no cases of acidosis observed this winter. In the previous two winters, acidosis was a problem which we tried to solve by adding sodium bicarbonate to parlour concentrates."

Acidosis risk is probably made worse by having to feed a high level of low cost straights and roots to eke out grass silage stocks. "Grass silage stocks are limited as the herd was recently expanded to 180-cows, without any increase in silage area," explains Mr Mycock.

Keenan nutritionist Hefin Richards believes the cause of acidosis was the combination of feeding wet acidic silage and high levels of parlour feed.

To tackle this problem, the first change was to take out two-thirds of concentrates fed in the parlour and incorporate this with grass silage and vegetables. The same feeds had to be used as they were already ordered for the winter, but were presented in a more balanced way, he says.

Cows now only receive 1kg of concentrates at each milking and the remaining 6kg/day in the mixed ration. Mr Mycock believes this has also reduced cow stress at milking. "There was a mad rush of cows at each milking for concentrates. Feeding 1kg seems sufficient to keep them occupied during milking."

Straw was also added to the ration to help rumen function by counteracting wet silage and opening up the ration structure, says Mr Richards. "Silage at Hayward Farm typically has a dry matter content of 23%, as it is not wilted before ensiling."

To ensure the ration is balanced, two different concentrate pre-mixes were formulated for on-farm mixing, says Mr Richards.

"The reason for the two mixes is that a lower protein % is needed for parlour feeding. This should not exceed 18% to avoid excessive rumen upset and help achieve a better balance between energy and protein supply during the day.

"Pre-mixes contain barley, palm kernel, maize gluten and a rapemeal, soya and groundnut meal blend. The parlour pre-mix costs about £92/t, while the premix in the mixed ration was £101/t, due to higher protein %."

Mid-lactation cows are also benefiting from the change by having a greater lactation persistency with a flatter curve, says Mr Richards. "They seem to be using more energy for lactation, instead of becoming over fit, breaking the cycle of thin cow, fat cow."

The only alteration needed to the building to introduce the wagon was to reinforce the slatted floor at either end of the feed passage, says Mr Mycock.

Having a mixer wagon has also helped Mr Mycock gauge how much feed to put in troughs. Each load is fed to the 180-herd housed across four separate yards. "Sometimes the feed box would run out of feed halfway down the last yard, as it was difficult to judge amounts."

Having a load cell has also improved accuracy when making up a ration as the correct amount of silage or vegetables can be added, he says.

Mr Mycock had previously considered purchasing a feeder wagon, but he was unsure whether the responses frequently described in published articles would be seen on his unit. "Looking at the response, we should have had one years ago, as it will soon pay for itself."

Another option is to share a machine with a neighbouring producer, spreading the costs, says Mr Richards. In Ireland, some contractors offer a feeder wagon service with one wagon feeding about eight herds. &#42

&#8226 Fewer acidosis problems.

&#8226 Increased milk yield.

&#8226 Less stress at milking.

Switching to a mixed ration has improved cow health with no cases of acidosis seen this winter, says competition winner Richard Mycock.