Feed system could improve cow performance

A new diet concept that balances rates at which feeds are fermented in the rumen will have a big impact on cow health and production, as Jeremy Hunt found out

Dairy cow nutrition in the UK is about to get a complete overhaul – and a group of Cheshire milk producers will be among the first to test a cutting-edge approach to precise balancing energy and protein levels in the rumen.

The new Rumen Performance Management system, launched by feed compounders North West Farmers and working with Frank Wright Trouw Nutrition International, is based on the latest approaches to feed technology being developed in the USA and Europe.

It is thought the new system will finally put UK dairy farmers on the road to feeding their cows in the most efficient and profitable way, according to NWF’s technical manager Tom Hough.

“The RPM system ensures better rumen synchrony and a better matching of digestive end products to meet the cows’ requirements. Rapid protein and energy synchronisation will address the imbalances that put cows under stress. The RPM system will improve feed efficiency and rumen health while reducing wastage,” he said.

The research, undertaken by Dutch firm Nutreco, is claimed to create a dietary system that has a big impact on reducing acidosis caused by varying rates of fermentation in the rumen.

“It’s the first in the UK to take account of the different rates at which feeds are fermented in the rumen. It allows a diet to be produced which ensures the correct balance of fast and slowly fermented energy and protein constituents and enables us to ensure diets don’t compromise rumen health,” said Mr Hough, speaking at the system’s launch at Nantwich, Cheshire.

However, Mr Hough stressed he was not advocating that a computer was the only thing needed to ration cows. “Farmers will never be able to ration cows by sitting at a computer. It’s vital to spend time observing cows and watching what’s happening in the herd, assessing forage quality, how much is being eaten and then fine-tuning the diet accordingly.

“A lot can be learned from looking at manure consistency. Thin manure can indicate a diet lacking in structure or which has surplus carbohydrate and/or protein, while thick, stiff manure can suggest a shortage of carbohydrate and/or protein or possibly excess fibre – or even a combination of all of these. RPM allows closer scrutiny of diets, giving clues to the source of problems, thus allowing corrective action to be taken.”

Mr Hough explained how the concept had been used to modify the formulation of NWF compounds and blends. “Our Ultra range of blends has adopted the RPM system to increase supply of either glucogenic, aminogenic or ketogenic end products which allow precise control of the flow of digestion end products from the rumen.”

And glucogenic nutrients such as propionic acid and bypass starch are essential for milk yield and milk protein, said Frank Wright’s John Allen.

“Ketogenic nutrients, including acetic and butyric acid, and digestible fat influence milk fat production while aminogenic end products such as essential amino acids are needed for milk yield and milk protein. The rumen is the key driver of dairy cow performance and 70% of nutrients required by the cow are the direct result of rumen fermentation,” said Dr Allen.

The fermentation end products are vital for cow maintenance, milk yield and milk composition, added Dr Allen. “We know feeds are used in different ways but this has never before been reflected in rationing software. While traditional rationing systems, such as Feed into Milk, produce diets based on gross factors, such as ME, crude protein, rumen energy and protein and by-pass protein they don’t differentiate between the different sources of energy and protein and how they are used in the rumen and within the cow.”

CASE STUDY – John Mosford, Weaver Farm, Tarporley 

 John Mosford has doubled his herd in the last seven years and is now milking about 500 cows but he’s always been concerned about energy shortfalls in cow diets in early lactation.

In early December he switched to feeds that have been re-formulated to take account of the RPM system and since then has noticed a significant improvement in cow performance – particularly the longer, flatter lactation curves being achieved by newly-calved heifers.

“Top yielders are peaking at 61kg but we’re finding we can hold those that peak at 45 litre cows at that level a lot longer.

“I’ve always believed cows need as much energy if not more than they need protein. Years ago we used to throw lots of protein at these cows but we often got foot problems and cows burning themselves out.

“Protein has to be carefully balanced in the ration and the new Rumen Performance Management system is based on getting the correct balance between protein and energy,” said Mr Mosford who farms with his wife Helen and two eldest sons Sam and Ben at Weaver Farm, near Tarporley.

After just eight weeks on the new RPM-based diet the herd – currently averaging 9379 litres – has shown an improvement in milk quality. Butterfat levels have reached 4.3% and protein has been up to 3.3% even though we’ve also seen an improvement in milk yield.”

The herd has achieved high dry matter intakes this winter. Intakes of grass (30%) and maize silage (70%) based complete diet mix – which has included biscuit meal and fodder beet this winter – have reached 30 kg a head a day compared with last winter when the maximum was 26kg.


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