Change of feed regime boosts French herd health and yields

Reductions in metabolic problems, such as milk fever and rumen acidosis, as well as improvements in standing heat, are just two of the tangible gains from feeding a high-fibre dry cow ration, according to Meneac, Brittany, dairy producer Anthony Dinel (pictured).

Anthony Dinel

For Mr Dinel, who farms in partnership with his mother and brother, it is the switch to feeding a mixed ration that enables him to take more control of dry cow management in his 43-cow herd. “Previously we were feeding silage with a forage box and concentrate in the parlour and dry cows were running with the main herd, eating the same ration.

“The change to a mixer wagon made us look at dry cow management and assess how we could improve their health. Cows are now fed a ration containing 12.5kg of the milking cow ration and 10kg of straw each. This helps fill the rumen and stimulate rumen alleoli recovery from the previous lactation.”

And on top of the immediate health improvements, Mr Dinel says that since switching to a mixed ration and the new dry cow strategy he hasn’t had to calve a cow and intakes immediately post calving are significantly better than they were.

“Conception is also better, with 65% of cows holding to first service, helping improve replacement rate, which stands at 18%, but we hope that will fall further. The herd averages about four lactations, with the best cows averaging six. We want to average nearer six, although our current level of four lactations is higher than the French national average of 2.4.

But more noticeable than the health improvements has been the rapid rise in yield since the change, explains Mr Dinel’s nutritionist, Denis Dreux of Keenan Rumans. “Yields have risen from 26 litres/day to 31 litres/day at the same time as feed intakes have fallen from 23.4kg of dry matter/day to 21kg dry matter/day.

“This has resulted in an increase in feed efficiency from 1.13 to 1.56, meaning every 1kg of dry matter intake is now yielding 1.56 litres of milk. So, while feed costs are rising Mr Dinel has been able to get more milk from less feed. Cows are yielding 11,000 litres, a rise of 4300 litres two years ago when the change in feeding regime was made.”

And remarkably, while many UK herds are considering expansion plans, Mr Dinel has cut cow numbers from 55 to just 43 milking cows.

“Even if Mr Dinel wants to expand it would be difficult because of the difficulty in gaining extra quota,” say Mr Dreux.

There are a few private businesses in France with surplus quota for sale, but it is only available in 1000-20,000-litre lots, adds Mr Dinel. “The main way of gaining more quota is to buy land with quota attached to it, but even then half the quota is taken into the national reserve, so expansion can be a slow process.”

Case study – Murielle Poutrain, Rennes, Normandy

Murielle Poutrain has also experienced a similar improvement in herd health since switching to a high-fibre dry cow ration and, most importantly, feed conversion efficiency has risen to 1.75. Milk fever cases are no longer seen and retained cleansings are also a thing of the past, says Ms Poutrain.

“The dry cow ration opens the rumen ready for the start of the lactation. It allows cows to go straight onto milking cow rations and yield well immediately. Cows don’t lose condition in early lactation anymore and hefiers that are fed the dry cow ration for at least two months pre-calving regularly do more than 10,000 litres in their first lactation. Any that don’t aren’t retained in the herd.”

French profit

Milk prices in France are running at just a little over 30p a litre for most units, depending on milk quality. And despite herd sizes of between 40 and 80 cows, all farms appear to be making significant profit, although to what extent this is due to single farm payment is unclear. Ms Poutrain says her and her business partner were drawing more than £1500 each from the 110ha farm, which carries a herd of 40 cows averaging 12,000 litres and grows a range of cereal crops, much of which is used to feed the herd.