Audit examines every method of raising intakes

5 November 1999

Audit examines every method of raising intakes

By Marianne Curtis

RAPID genetic progress means striving for ever higher intakes to maximise the potential of high genetic merit cows. A recent visit to the US convinced one consultant that much can be learned from American herdsmens attention to detail.

Following his visit to the US, ADAS consultant Richard Eaton put together an intake audit. The audit covers many factors which may influence cows feed intake, including feed quality, feeding facilities, cow condition, water, air and lighting.

The first herd under the intake microscope is run by James Coverdale, at Worden Farm, Holsworthy, Devon. The year-round-calving, 350-cow herd is fed a total mixed ration throughout the year. Cows are milked three times a day and only grazed for four or five hours a day in summer.

Current intake for the 9000 litre herd is about 22.2kg DM a day, based on a 650kg cow producing 34 litres a day. Raising the herds intake by 0.8kg a cow a day to 23kg DM could increase margin by nearly £18,000 a year, says Mr Eaton.

While some of the increase in intake will be achieved by genetic improvement, a close look at management factors should also highlight opportunities for boosting intakes, he says.

Silage quality is considered in the first part of the audit. "We have had problems with silage heating up by the end of the day," says Mr Coverdale. Heating means some silage energy is being used up by bacteria and is therefore lost to cows. Toxins produced by bacteria can also make it less palatable, reducing intakes, adds Mr Eaton.

Ideally, the TMR should be fed to cows twice a day at Worden Farm to minimise heating. But competition for the feeder wagon with another dairy unit on the farm means this is impossible, according to Mr Coverdale.

Silage should also be fresh smelling, free from mould and well fermented to maximise intakes, advises Mr Eaton. "Silage needs to be wilted and well rolled in the clamp to improve fermentation and therefore, intakes. Consider using a second tractor on the pit."

Chop length is also important to achieve high intakes, says Mr Eaton. Providing adequate long fibre enables rumen bugs to work better and helps avoid acidosis. More than 20% of the ration should contain forage particles that are longer than 4cm (1.5in), he says.

"Consider chopping silage in lengths of 1.5in rather than 3/4in to an inch. Hay is included in this diet at 0.8kg a cow, and provides a useful source of long fibre. Cows actually select it from the ration."

Troughs in the UK may not quite match up to the plastic-lined varieties seen by Mr Eaton in the US. But quality of feeding facilities cannot be ignored by producers dedicated to increasing intakes, he says.

"Troughs or floors should be cleaned daily to remove refusals, and surfaces should be smooth with no cracks. Pushing food close to cows is a task often neglected. But doing this after milkings is a quick way to improve intakes, because cows can actually reach the food!"

Keeping food in front of cows all the time should be the ultimate aim, he suggests. "Troughs shouldnt be empty for more than half an hour during a 24 hour period." But troughs at Worden Farm are kept empty for two hours at night, when cows eat less, to avoid silage heating excessively.

Maximising eating time by not holding cows in collecting rings for long periods also increases intakes, says Mr Eaton. "Cows shouldnt spend longer than an hour away from food during the milking routine unless they are fed in the parlour when up to two hours away from food is acceptable." Splitting cows into groups is a good way to avoid them spending too long in collecting areas, suggests Mr Coverdale.

Other, less obvious factors influencing intakes are lighting, water and air quality. But all make a contribution which can add up to cows eating and producing more, says Mr Eaton.

Correct lighting can improve intakes and yields by up to 10%. Cows should have 16-18 hours of continuous light a day and it should be bright enough to be able to read a newspaper easily, he says.

Currently two banks of lights are left on all night on the unit, but this is unnecessary and lights should be switched off after the midnight milking to achieve six hours of darkness, adds Mr Eaton.

Where water is supplied from a bore hole, it should be tested yearly to check for iron contamination which can interfere with copper absorption and cow health, he says.

Water should also be regularly cleaned and 5cm (2in) of water trough perimeter a cow should be provided. There also needs to be a 3m (10ft) radius around the trough for cows to drink freely, he says.

Drinking space

Drinking space at Worden Farm is more than adequate and Mr Eaton suggests removing several water troughs, making trough cleaning less of a chore.

Maximising cow comfort by ensuring good air quality is crucial to get the most from cows, adds Mr Eaton. "Housing should be well ventilated and free from odours. Ridge ventilation two inches wide is needed for every 10 feet of building width." &#42


&#8226 Raise feed quality.

&#8226 Make feed accessible.

&#8226 Improve cows environment.

See more