Try these tips to get through this year’s short water supplies and high-priced feeds.
As California’s extended drought limits both water and feed supplies for the state’s dairies, producers must be open to new feeds as well as new feeding practices and strategies.
That’s the advice of Dr. Peter Robinson, dairy nutritionist with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), who offered several ways for dairy producers to extend their forage supplies and avoid the need to purchase more. Robinson spoke yesterday in Modesto, Calif., at a drought assistance workshop presented by the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program.
To prevent losses of forage and other feeds they have already purchased, Robinson suggested:
1. Go all out to reduce silage shrink.
Use lactic acid additives in cereal and alfalfa silage, but not in corn silage.
Double-cover silage piles using inner thin plastic. "This has a very substantial, positive effect on reducing shrink," he said.
Cover piles within 12 hours of harvest. For large piles, cover as you go.
For feeds bought but not fed, use covers and bays. Only remove as much silage as needed, and have the feeders clean up at the end of the day.
2. Find new, often overlooked and probably local feeds.
- "Corn and wheat silages are not magic," said Robinson. "You can reduce ingredient minimums in diet formulations."
- Consider seasonal feeds such as vegetable and fruit wastes. Those can include strawberries, peaches, melons, citrus and green beans. Carefully examine bulk buys in season. "Put the word out that you are interested in oddball stuff," he said. Ensile them with lower quality forages such as straws. That can work well in "sausage" bags.
- Consider rice straw. UCCE research has resulted in good success with double-chop rice straw in a heifer TMR, Robinson said.
- Use dNDF values to evaluate silage quality. This allows strategic use of silages.
- With yeasts and yeast culture, expect about 2 lb. per day of milk with no fat/protein percentage change. Also expect dry-matter intake to be flat or decline up to 1 lb. per day, Robinson added. These perform best in high-group TMRs.
Consider using Monensin. "This reduces intake while maintaining milk in lower forage diets," Robinson said. "Improved efficiency is the only official claim. But the effects dissipate with time, so restrict this to a high TMR."
Mold binders can reduce the negative effects of mycotoxins on feed efficiency.
- Rumen inert fats reduce dry-matter intake. "You can expect milk production, and/or milk fat, increases," he said. "But this is a very expensive energy source."
- Cull at the end of lactation. "Make the culling decision because these cows are about to cost you about 1,200 lb. of forage dry matter in the next 60 days," Robinson said.
- Use DHIA records to cull in early lactation. Low-milk producers are inefficient, and cows with low-fat tests will be gaining weight.
- Increase stocking density in corrals. "Consider moving up your stocking density to 110%+," he advised. "This will reduce dry-matter intake more than milk yield, so apply this only in corrals where cows have medium to high body-count scores."
7. Take a closer look at your feeding systems.
- Remove spoiled silage at uncovering. "That will reduce mycotoxin levels which reduce feed efficiency," said Robinson. "Feed spoiled silage at low levels to heifers."
- Limit feed refusals to 1%. This creates limit-feeding conditions and increased feed efficiency.
- Use a two-lactation TMR. Your nutrient composition will be similar and it allows strategic use of feed additives.