Feed investment keeps quality on line
INVESTING in concentrates or bulk feeds to cope with forage shortages this summer may be the best way to benefit from a milk contract that pays on a constituent basis.
Shropshire-based Genus nutritionist Andrew Marlow warns that changing feeding to alter milk constituents is unpredictable and so must be justified carefully. But getting it right and maintaining milk quality through the summer and autumn may help hold it up all year.
Increasing protein by 0.1% is worth 0.384p/litre on a Milk Marque contract, or 7.1p a day for a 25-litre cow. And the most efficient way to achieve an economic protein % is with high intakes of high quality forage, claims Mr Marlow.
"In ideal grazing conditions cows produce good milk protein levels," he says. "When protein drops it is often due to poor grass supply – so when cows are grazing know how much grass is in front of them.
When grass is short the ideal buffer feed is maize – if you can get over the first year of building up stocks to feed it, he claims. "However, responses to extra feeding in terms of milk quality or yield can vary," he says. "Know how cows should be performing using a milk profile prediction for the farm and anticipate feed shortfalls in good time."
Attempts to maintain milk protein through late summer and autumn in summer calvers will be repaid later. When milk protein drops before housing it is difficult to recover it economically on a winter ration, adds Mr Marlow.
"So for a short period it may be worth investing in feed to keep the cows lactations and milk quality up to target."
Maize gluten price for this summer at £105/t or lower and is good value for plugging a short-term energy gap in cows, he says. Although this extra concentrate may not increase milk, it may prevent further decreases. Brewers grains would also be a good buy at £27/t – 4kg can be fed in place of 1kg of maize gluten.
Feeding £16 worth of brewers grains – 10kg a day over two months – could allow milk proteins to be maintained at a higher level through the winter, especially for summer calvers. Its cost at only 8p a day for a 200-day winter, would be justified by about a 0.1% increase in protein, but yields may also be higher, he claims. Summer calvers fertility may also benefit from this feed, saving on semen costs.
However, he adds that the cost of having to supplement cows to make up for grass shortages may be reduced using catch crops such as stubble turnips.
As for winter feeding he suggests aiming for high quality silage. Low milk proteins often reflect poor quality silage and if this is the case it will be difficult to get an economic increase in milk protein, he claims. There is little cost difference between good and poor quality silage – the difference is in the grass, and management at harvest and clamping.
Milk protein in winter can also be increased at little or no extra cost by changing to a starch-based type of concentrate. But it can be more difficult to justify increasing the level of concentrate fed to improve protein percentages.n
Feeding for milk quality this summer could help maintain fat and protein levels all year.
• Adequate forage supply.
• Protein drops expensive.
• Favour starch-based concentrates.