Dairy Event 2010: Know what you are feeding

Farmers feeding waste products to cows in a bid to bulk out diets this winter should take particular care to avoid health problems, warned experts at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show, Birmingham, last week.

This autumn it has not been unheard of for farmers to be feeding anything from bent cucumbers to potatoes for fillers, but it’s critical these diets are balanced, said Frank Wright International technical manager John Twigge.

“Getting forage analysed and balancing diets correctly is vital, as a lot of these waste products used as fillers have a high percentage of water and don’t offer much else,” he said.

But bulking out diets is better than denying buffer feeding, added XL Vet’s Kevin Beattie, who has seen a rise in the number of left displaced abomasums (DAs) this autumn. “Many farmers have been thinking conditions at grass look right and with lower levels of forage in the clamp have been refraining from buffer feeding, but this is causing an increase in DAs.”

Mr Beattie said those farmers who were worried about forage shortages could look at targeting buffer feeding to “at risk” animals. “Segregating at-risk individuals such as freshly-calved cows and part housing and buffer feeding them could help prevent DAs. But it’s important where cheap products are being used as a filler that farmers sit down with a nutritionist and vet to plan the ration and prevent health problems.”

But even for those producers with enough forage to see them through the winter, it is still important feed is analysed, said KW Feed’s Michael Marsden. “The forage shortage panic may be over for some producers with second and third-cut silage bulking out clamps, but protein content could be short in many clamps this year.”

He said while energy content of forages should be quite reasonable, the protein quality was likely to be low. “Protein balance is something farmers should focus on this season, particularly with more people feeding whole-crop, which is a low protein feed.”

But with protein feeds such as rape and soya continuing to rise and the availability of co-products such as brewer’s grains hard to get hold of, farmers are going to be forced to look for alternative options, said Dr Marsden.

“Farmers may be forced to look at high protein liquid feeds which give high sugar, fill up the rumen, are palatable and address the protein problem. Other protein options include things like rumen-protected rapeseed meal which would fill the protein gap.”

However, even when silage clamps aren’t full, farmers should be analysing the product before panicking about whether they have enough feed for the winter, said NWF’s Mike Phillips. “Even though some clamps are not 100% full, it’s important they know exactly what the quality is in the clamp. It could be that the clamp has a high DM and is good quality and, therefore, less can be fed to achieve the same production level.”