What to consider when replacing alfalfa with corn silage.
By Dr. Gene Boomer, Manager, Field Technical Services, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition
Feeding challenges have been a topic of much discussion this spring. Short hay supplies and soaring demand, coupled with rising fuel charges to transport hay across the country, have caused dairy producers and nutritionists to search for new opportunities for the ration.
One common trend has been the shift from alfalfa hay to corn silage. While this has some benefits—like delivering more energy in the diet—it’s not an easy switch-out. Without the right ration fine-tuning, the shift from forage to silage can have detrimental impacts on cow health and performance for multiple reasons:
- More starch. Corn silage delivers more starch to the diet and into the rumen, which can negatively impact rumen microbe health. Without a healthy rumen microbe population, cow health suffers, too.
- Smaller particle size. Dairy cows need both long and short particles in the ration for proper rumen bypass rates. Longer particle feeds like alfalfa are needed in the rumen to maintain microbe health, while higher-energy feeds like corn silage move through the rumen much faster.
- Less rumen buffering. High-quality forages help increase rumen pH to an optimal environment where microbes thrive. When corn silage replaces alfalfa, rumen health can be negatively impacted.
All three of the above outcomes are known to cause milk-fat depression. Milk-fat depression is not only a sign of compromised animal health, but also translates to lower premiums in the milk check.
While there’s no one solution that will alleviate today’s feeding challenges, remain mindful of the things that matter most:
- The rumen. A properly functioning rumen is essential for maintaining health and performance. Stay focused on providing a diet that will promote rumen health. Consider feeding a high-quality potassium carbonate source which has been proven1 to reduce milk-fat depression and increase component production.
- The cow. Watch the herd closely, especially following major ration changes. Monitor incidence of key diseases—like displaced abomasums, rumen acidosis and laminitis—to ensure the ration is providing the right nutrient levels and particle sizes.
- The milk check. If milk component levels wane, so will overall farm income. Monitor milk and component production closely, since one hasty decision in the ration can have profit-robbing results. Excessive compromise usually results in decreased performance. On the flip side, a well thought out ration change, based on sound nutritional principles, can result in improved performance and profits for years to come.
To learn more about making your nutrition program all that it can be, visit AHDairy.com.
1 Jenkins T, Block E, Morris P. Potassium reduces the accumulation of Trans-10, Cis-12 conjugated linoleic acid and Trans-18:1 in continuous cultures of mixed ruminal micro-organisms regardless of dietary fat levels. J Dairy Sci 2011;94 Abstr. 570.
Contact Dr. Boomer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.