5 October 2001


If youre not sure this winters dairy cow ration is working

as well as it should, try a free ration check

FEELING nervous about offering dairy cows their first taste of a winter diet? Or are your cows failing to perform as expected? Then you could benefit from a free ration check.

The farm management and consultancy company Velcourt, FWi and farmers weekly have joined forces to offer dairy producers up to two free ration checks for each dairy business this winter.

Velcourts farms director Richard Snow explains that while ideally anyone designing a ration should observe cows and their environment, there are good reasons for checking rations before advisers go on farm.

Foot-and-mouth has seen producers keeping advisers and company reps off their units in a bid to improve biosecurity; cutting costs is also commonplace with fewer adviser visits for rationing. In addition, the US Cornell rationing system asks for more information on cow environment and performance to predict factors, such as likely cow intakes, normally assessed by feed advisers.

"Cornells system is based on a model cow in the environment you state. It tries to predict the biological reaction within her rumen and the post-ruminal tract.

"So, when you input the right information, it is possible to get a good idea of how a ration will perform. This is contrary to what I have previously thought.

"However, the limitations of this type of ration check must be recognised. There will always be cases when you must look the cow in the eye to find out what is going wrong."

Accuracy of the information put into the computer program is vital. When completing the input forms, make the information as accurate as possible and err on the side of caution, he advises. "When trough space is lacking, not admitting it will reduce the accuracy of the ration check results."

He also advises being truthful about body condition scoring. "Different people will score cows slightly differently, but it is important that this is as accurate as possible." For those lacking confidence in scoring cows, he suggests asking for an honest opinion from a vet or member of your discussion group.

The input form will also ask for details of lighting, ventilation and mastitis incidence. While these are not typically used in UK rationing systems, 20 years of developing rationing programs at Cornell has identified them as factors which influence cow performance, says Mr Snow.

It may also be useful to provide additional information, such as fertility concerns or when cows have suffered a difficult dry period. "Rationing during the dry period is as important as for high yielders."

The input forms also ask for silage analyses. While Cornell is set up for a US type silage analysis, UK results and assumed averages for some factors will be used when this is not available and this should result in a reasonable ration check result. Alternatively, a more detailed Cornell analysis costs about £12, he adds.

Maize silage is often not analysed by producers. In this case, Mr Snow will use an average analysis, but a dry matter content will improve accuracy and can be calculated by drying a sample of crop in the oven or microwave.

Mr Snow will aim to report back on rations sent for checking within five days. Reports will include comments on possible limitations of the management system described. "If the ration works on a dry matter intake of 24kg/cow a day, my comments will point out that this would require access to high quality feed for a minimum of 18 hours a day."

It will also highlight any potential problems, such as body condition score loss, when rations are short of energy for the predicted yield. Possible solutions may also be offered. But these should be interpreted with care, as the offer is intended to check a rations nutritional value and not to provide a rationing service or indicate its cost-effectiveness. &#42


&#8226 Up to two free checks are allowed for each dairy farming business.

&#8226 These may be requested at any time during the offer period.

&#8226 Ration checks are available between now and Dec 14, 2001.

&#8226 Accurate results will require accurate and complete input forms – please keep a copy in case of queries.

&#8226 Input forms are available on or by fax/post from Velcourt (01935-83240, fax 01935-83029).

&#8226 For further details contact Richard Snow on the above numbers or by e-mail

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