**Extended comments highlighted in blue.
Tighter economic conditions keep producers looking at feed cost as one of the ways to control the cost of milk production.
Working with reduced input standards for protein, minerals and other ration factors offers both economic and environmental benefits. On one hand they offer opportunities, but on the other they represent an increased risk of reduced performance.
The conventional management strategy was to be sure there was sufficient allowance, called a safety factor, to cover any nutritional shortfall. However, that may be too expensive under current conditions. The challenge is to identify and manage those areas of risk that can cause less than optimum performance on your dairy.
It starts with knowing the feed value of all the ingredients of your cows’ diets. Just analyzing the feeds is not enough. We need to have feedstuff analysis that truly reflects the feed that our livestock consume.
In the past few years, several studies have underscored the importance of sampling protocols and analysis in developing accurate information on forages for use in developing tighter rations. The results indicate that one analysis of a given feed is seldom of much more value than traditional book values.
Sampling forages is the biggest challenge. Bunk storages, upright silos, and bags all require different approaches to sampling. Bunk storage, which is filled horizontally, tends to average the load-by-load or field-by-field differences. The sampling of bunks should include three or more samples from the bunk face within a week to establish a baseline and then regular weekly sampling to monitor those silages. A rolling average of recent analysis is the best practice.
Uprights and bags tend to maintain variations, making it much more difficult to predict what is to be fed. For this situation, the best strategy is to sample as harvested and then monitor as fed out. Even then it becomes more about what was fed then about predicting what is coming up to be fed.
Using near infrared technology for analysis of routine forages is appropriate. However, special feeds and unusual circumstances should be handled with wet chemistry. Constant and consistent checking of the forage dry matter by Koster tester or microwave is fundamental.
Hays, straw and other dry forages require special thinking about potential variation and sampling. The fact is that every bale is different. Core sampling of multiple bales and a rolling average of analysis from large lots is the best protocol.
A single sample is statistically a poor bet. Because of their high dry matter content, even a few pounds in a diet are important.
Dry ingredients such as soybean oil meal, distillers’ grains and cottonseed products are much more consistent than forages. There may be variations between suppliers or processors, but these tend to be predictable. Enough sampling should be done to establish a baseline, and then feeds need to be monitored.
Grains such as corn, barley and whole soybeans are also more consistent, and monitoring them to compare with standard values is usually sufficient. Remember that the ingredients that make up larger portions of the diets should be analyzed and monitored more frequently.
- December 2012