Emergency Straw Diets Can Work in Late Lactation

June 14, 2013 06:03 AM

Emergency rations can work, at least temporarily, until new crop feed can be harvested or purchased.

With last year’s drought, this spring’s alfalfa winterkill and this month’s delayed hay harvest plaguing significant areas of the Midwest, straw can be an emergency feed for late lactation cows.

Research done by Mary Beth Hall at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Wisconsin last fall with straw and beet pulp replacing some alfalfa haylage and corn silage for short periods can work. Milk production was maintained on the diets, and income over feed cost actually improved. The caveat is that the trial lasted just four weeks.

"This was a pragmatic study, and not the end all and be all," she says. But it does show emergency rations can work, at least temporarily, until new crop feed can be harvested or purchased.

In the trial, four diets with 0%, 3%, 6% and 9% wheat straw were fed. The wheat straw was supplemented with sugar beet pulp. Molasses was also added to prevent ration sorting. Forty-eight late lactation cows (280 days in milk), mostly first-calf heifers, were included in the trial.

The cows did maintain milk production. Prior to going onto the straw diets, cows averaged 71 lb. of milk/day. At 3% straw, they averaged 72 lb.; at 6%, 69 lb., and at 9%, 68 lb. Income over feed costs, based on actual feed costs and milk prices at the time of the study, increased as the level of straw inclusion increased. But at the highest level of straw inclusion, there was some evidence of body condition mobilization as cows tried to maintain milk production.

Hall cautions that this is a very short feeding trail and that more research is needed. "However, the forage substitute/high byproduct diets are viable substitutes to feed lactating dairy cows when other more traditional feeds are in short supply," she says.

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