A new approach to dairy and beef feeding

A new approach to dairy and beef feeding focusing on the physical structure of rations can increase feed conversion efficiency by up to 30%, Aly Balsom reports.

More milk or beef from the same amount or less feed may seem like the stuff dreams are made of, but according to Keenan nutritional director David Beever it is possible, provided feeds are presented correctly.

“Simply understanding the importance of the physical presentation of the ration can improve feed conversion efficiency by 20-30% and improve cow health and reduce environmental pressures,” Prof Beever told a press visit to Wijnand Pon’s dairy unit, Coopon Carse, Newton Stewart.

Coopon Carse is a 500-cow dairy farm at Newton Stewart, Scotland. They milk three times a day with an average yield of 10,700kg/cow and produce their own high-quality forages.

Since using Mech-fiber alongside PACE, Coopon Carse has seen an increase in feed conversion efficiency of 19% and an increase margin over purchased feed to £1.41/cow/day.

Feed conversion efficiency has improved from 1.25 to 1.5 said Alec Robertson, farm manager. “We are using less feed and producing more litres.

“The Mech-fiber wagon produces a much more even mix. Compared to the tub mixer we were previously using, the chop is a lot cleaner and the mix is more consistent. The PACE box has helped eliminate user error.”

These benefits have been seen by tractor man, Lee Howie. “The new PACE system counts down the quantity of each feed so it is easy to get the perfect mix every time, whoever is mixing the ration.”

The wagon is particularly good for dry cow mixes, says Mr Robertson. “Mech-fiber allows us to deliver accurate rations to smaller groups.

“Fuel consumption has reduced by almost 50% since switching from the tub mixer which has also conferred significant savings.”

According to Prof Beever, this is not achieved through complex chemistry or some super-supplement, but through a better understanding of the physical requirements of ruminants.

“It is not necessarily about changing the ingredients in the feed,” Prof Beever continued. “It is simply through manipulating and optimising the physical presentation of the ration.”

Research undertaken by Keenen identified the influence of bulk density, uniformity of particle size distribution, and the physical structure of fibre particles on rumen function and thus milk production

“A ration can often deliver on paper but in practice it is underperforming. A lot of the time this comes down to ration presentation.”

Research undertaken by Jim Drackley at the University of Illinois was showing improvements in herd health in Keenan-fed cows.

“We were seeing more consistent intakes, less body condition change, less metabolic problems and increased lactation persistency in dry cows fed by a Keenan feeder.”

The over-bearing question was why this was happening, said Prof Beever. “We believed the secret to these results lay in increased rumen health. Further research carried out by Chris Reynolds at the University of Reading proved this theory.

“Dr Reynolds’ findings showed an extra one litre of milk production/day and an extra 45g/cow/day of milk protein when comparing a ration mixed in a Keenan with the same ration mixed in a vertical auger.”

Rumen conditions were also more stable with the Keenan-mixed ration. “By simply changing the physical properties of the ration, there was a 33% reduction in the time the rumen was below pH 6,” Prof Beever explained.

By delivering a homogenous mix to the rumen, you are providing an increased surface area on which rumen enzymes and microflora can work to their optimum potential and quickly and thoroughly act on nutrients. High-energy particles can also be held safely within the mix to prevent the onset of acidosis.

According to Prof Beever, feed can, therefore, be digested fully, producing less methane per unit of output, resulting in a potential 20% reduction in methane.

The challenge on farm is to deliver these findings every day, no matter who is mixing the ration, he added.

To overcome these issues, Keenan set about developing a new mixer wagon with a gentler processing action – mixing and precision-chopping the ration without destroying structure.

The new approach to feeding focuses on the physical structure of rations to increase feed conversion efficiency.
This produces a light low density “fluffy” mix, and an added advantage is the whole process has a lower tractor power and fuel requirement, allowing significant cost savings, explained Niall McGauran, Keenan UK manager.

“By reducing the size of the auger and putting it lower down in the body, the machine has the capacity of a 16cu m machine in the body of a 14cu m.”

The machine in itself can improve feed conversion efficiency, but to get maximum efficiency, Mech-fiber should be used alongside Keenan’s new PACE support system which aims to make delivery of Mech-fiber, consistent and reliable on farm.

With different staff mixing on consecutive days, consistency of ration delivery is often a problem on farm.

Keenan has developed specialist know how to process the best ‘physical’ mix in a Keenan wagon, said Prof Beever. “This includes details of the correct loading sequence and processing times related to different types of feed and forage. PACE allows us to transfer the Keenan knowledge without physically being on farm.”

This information is relayed to the person mixing the ration via a simple display box. The box displays what component of the ration needs to be added next and how many rotations of the auger is needed.

PACE can use any ration formulation, it does not have to be formulated by Keenan, said Mr McGauran.

A farmer can input his ration information onto the computer and email it to Keenen. He will then receive details of how the ration should be mixed to produce the Mech-fibre ration. This is downloaded onto a memory stick and transferred to the PACE box.

“You can download information from the PACE at the end of every week or month to see how accurate your loading has been,” Mr McGauran continued. “By inputting milk yield and quality data you can also calculate feed conversion efficiency.” Feed costs can also be used to work out margins.

The average feed conversion efficiency in Europe is about 1.1, “After putting the Mech-fiber philosophy on farm, we aim to increase feed conversion efficiency by 0.1 in the first 90 days,” said Mr Mcgauran.

The cost of buying a Mech-fiber wagon plus the PACE, works out at 11p/cow/day for 200 cows. However, Keenan claim that this can confer a gain of 67p/cow/day or the equivalent of an increase in feed conversion efficiency of 0.2 in comparison to an easy feeder.



   Week  Milk kg/day  DMI kg/day  Protein%  Fat % Feed Efficiency  Margin £/cow/day
 Vertical mix  1  28.50 22.92  3.26 3.82 1.25 £4.22
 Keenan mix  3 28.96 22.17 3.31 3.88 1.31 £4.54
 Mech-fiber  15 29.41 21.01 3.60 3.91 1.41 £5.25
 MF + PACE  24 30.90 20.70 3.57 3.87 1.49 £5.63
 Change   +2.40 -2.22 +0.31 +0.05 +0.24 +1.41