It appears 2009 may be a financial challenge for producers as milk prices continue to weaken while feed costs are a wild card. One solution is to maximize your forages. That may work best for areas where homegrown forages and available byproduct feeds offer economical nutrient sources. If you try this approach, pay close attention to these five areas:
Never give up milk or milk components, as 1 lb. of dry matter (10¢ to 12¢) can support 2 lb. of milk (35¢ to 40¢).
Higher levels of forages can be economically "right,” but feeding guidelines for dairy cattle do not change. Watch levels of metabolizable protein, neutral detergent fiber (NDF), lignin, acid detergent fiber, fat/oil and rumen fermentable carbohydrates.
Maximum forage level.
Several approaches can be used to estimate this figure, which will be farm-specific. One approach I like is 0.9% of the herd's body weight as forage NDF. For example, a 1,000-lb. Jersey herd could target 9 lbs. of forage NDF. This approach includes forage quality, ratio of corn silage to legume grass (corn silage can be low in NDF) and cow size.
Another approach is to shift the forage-to-concentrate ratio. Herds have moved up from 50% to 55% forage. If forage is top-quality, this ratio can be increased to 60% to 65%.
Higher-quality forages deliver more nutrients per pound and increase dry matter intake—a win-win situation. Measurements that define high-quality forage are NDF digestibility to evaluate rumen degradation; legume-grass forages over 150 relative forage quality; total ration lignin content less than 4%; and a favorable silage fermentation profile.
Total ration NDF should be less than 1.3% of the cow's body weight (use the same calculation as the first approach under "Maximim forage level”). If NDF is too high, a high "fill factor” can limit intake (too much bulk and slower rates of digestion and passage). Another guideline would be to target less than 35% of total NDF in the ration.