OF FAWC OKAY
The Farm Animal Welfare Council Report on Welfare of Dairy
Cattle urges more attention is given to nutrition and cow
condition. Peter Grimshaw runs the recommendations past
a nutritionist and one of the UKs largest milk producers
FEW aims of the FAWC report coincide more closely with those of milk producers than its recommendations on cow nutrition. But there is little room for complacency as profits are squeezed by collapsed milk prices.
Says the report: "Lactating cattle should be fed according to milk output, stage of lactation and body condition. Feeding should be accurately and frequently monitored by checking weights and composition of feed offered. Any changes in the diet should be planned and the ration phased in slowly."
Obvious enough, many would say, but ADAS senior nutrition consultant Chris Savery warns that most cows in the UK have the potential ability to milk considerably above their present production levels, with the inherent risk that they may suffer in present economic conditions. "The pressure on milk prices encourages higher yields, while tempting producers to reduce feed costs," he says.
With 1100 Holsteins averaging more than 8000 litres on its Down Ampney Estate, Cirencester, Glos, CWS Agriculture puts a high priority on nutrition. The companys west regional manager Roger Smith is responsible for the estate, and he faces the problems common to all milk producers.
But with Mr Saverys help, the company has shaved 1.5p/litre from its feed costs in less than two years. In spite of these savings, Mr Smith is confident that cows in the four Latton herds suffer little if any of the nutritional stress that concerns the FAWC reports authors.
"Metabolic problems have become less common in recent years," he says. "Knowledge about feeding high yielding cows has probably improved more in the last five or six years than in the previous 20. We have almost eliminated milk fever, for example, and Id be surprised if many problems with fertility were down to nutrition."
Mr Smith attributes this to the high level of nutritional monitoring and advice that is essential to the estates herd management.
At the individual herd level, there are highly qualified and experienced herd managers, while the dairy herds manager, Stephen Ashcroft, oversees all four herds. Then there is Mr Saverys contribution, monitoring performance and offering advice at each level of management.
One of the key management indicators is cow condition, although there is no formal scoring procedure. All dairy enterprise staff at Down Ampney use condition assessment as the basis for nutritional and management decisions, although as the manager of the 400-cow Poulton Hill herd, Jon Proctor, points out, cow condition can be read in the tank as well as on the back. Subtle changes from week to week have to be added into the equation that dictates any rationing changes.
Much of the Down Ampney Estate is on Thames gravel and susceptible to drought, so forage is based heavily on maize and grass silage, and the calving period is September to January. This allows grazing to be used with best effect to extend the lactation, backed by almost constant buffer feeding.
Mr Smith admits that grazing has still to be fully exploited, but, he says, "Grazing is a real opportunity to reduce feed cost/litre."
Bringing cows to calve in September off late summer grass puts heavy emphasis on dry cow management. "Dry cow management is probably the thing that has changed most in recent years. We start from the cows condition at the end of the lactation and relate that to condition at peak yield and previous history. Although there is no formal scoring, staff are well clued up, and the over-all dairy manager monitors condition of all four herds."
Mr Savery believes many dairy herds would benefit from a formal condition scoring survey at these key times, as recommended by the FAWC Report. "Its an important training tool, and was the original basis of condition monitoring here," he says.
The Down Ampney Estate purchases by-products strategically to supplement its home-grown grass and maize silages. ADAS analyses all major constituents to produce a ration that meets the diet specification for each yield group and lactation stage. The ration may include fishmeal if it is economically appropriate.
The TMR is mixed and delivered by the farms arable staff, all of whom have been trained in the key areas of rationing, such as silage clamp management. Individual herd managers specify daily quantities required.
Mr Savery also keeps an eye on quality and analysis of ingredients, monitors mixing efficiency and checks that feed is delivered to appetite. "These are areas where many farmers fail," he notes.
The FAWC report emphasises the need to monitor results of feeding as well as the basics of nutrition, and this is also part of Mr Saverys remit. "Much of my effort is concerned with the relationship between what I recommend and what actually happens," he says. He compares actual consumption with estimates, and relates this to the level of actual performance against calculated potential.
Underlying all the detailed analysis is the aim of a stable feeding regime. "Cows want consistency almost more than anything," comments Mr Savery.
DOWN AMPNEY DAIRY DETAILS
• 1100 Holsteins in four herds.
• Herd size from 180 to 420 cows.
• Average overall yield 8000 litres plus.
• September to February calving.
• Total mixed ration, using bought-in by-products, such as brewers grains.
• Strategic use of parlour compound feed if economically justified.
• High proportion of milk from forage – 50% of forage is maize silage.
• All silage analysed before feeding.
• Buffer feeding at grass.
• Body condition assessment used in rationing.
• Performance and feed consumption closely monitored.
COW NUTRITION – FAWC RECOMMENDATIONS
1 Feed according to output, stage of lactation and body condition.
2 Avoid using feed of animal origin.
3 Record individual daily milk yields against appropriate lactation curves
to evaluate feed regime.
4 Allow sufficient feeding space, and allow for shy animals.
5 Limit dry feed (concentrates) to 4kg in each feed, to avoid rumen
6 Provide adequate forage and alternative feeds in late lactation when
ration requirements are reduced.
7 Adequate water should be available in grazed areas.
8 10% of cows should be able to drink at any one time.
9 Offer cows at least 5% more than expected daily intake.
10 Discard stale feed daily.
11 Follow appropriate nutritional advice for high genetic potential cows.
12 Dry off cows abruptly, and maintain body condition with palatable,
low protein and energy forage.
13 Offer a suitable ration two to three weeks before calving.
14 Supply usual feed and water for isolated animals.
15 Use condition scoring as routine management tool, using MAFF