Manage the Challenge of Feeding when Forage is Deficient

July 1, 2014 09:47 AM
Manage the Challenge of Feeding when Forage is Deficient

5 areas where technology can help achieve feeding success.

Source: Calibrate Technologies

Forage availability difficulties have both dairy producers and nutritionists looking for options. Unlike in years past, higher grain diets may be the next best option economically these days; however, feeding these diets can be challenging.

"Feeding a higher grain diet isn’t new by any means," says Dr. Margaret Winsryg, technical support specialist with Calibrate® Technologies, based in Idaho. "Approximately 10 years ago, the dairy industry fed a higher concentrate than forage diet, but this is a trend the industry went away from, until recently."

Winsryg says that challenges surrounding water are one of the many issues behind the shortage of forages and the shift towards feeding a higher grain diet.

During what may be a difficult feeding atmosphere, knowledge and understanding of the effects high grain diets have on animal health and production will allow dairy producers and nutritionists to maintain an edge. Starch content, variability and digestibility are tops on the list.

Dairy producers and nutritionists who find themselves in forage deficit areas, and plan to feed a higher grain diet, should keep an eye on the following areas, says Winsryg.

1. Starch content variability of the ingredients used in high grain rations, as well as the digestibility of those ingredients.

2. Forage neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFd) variation.

3. If you are feeding a high grain ration, you could possibly be walking a fine line between efficiencies, milk production and animal health.

4. If starch variability in those feed ingredients goes down or up enough to change how the diet was balanced, and/or the digestibility also changes, milk yield can be reduced, milk components could decrease, animals could go off feed, money could be wasted on unnecessary feed expenses, existing feedstuffs may not be utilized as efficiently as possible or all of the above.

5. If your forage quality increases, causing the feed to move faster through the rumen, total feed efficiencies can go down with the increased dry matter intake (DMI). This is something to keep a close eye on, says Winsryg. If the forage quality decreases considerably, DMI could be lowered and cows may not reach maximum milk production.

To mitigate any issues that may arise when feeding a higher grain diet, Winsryg suggests nutritionists and dairy producers use precise laboratory tests like Calibrate® Technologies, to measure rumen degradable starch and fiber digestibility.

Utilizing proprietary measurements called GPN™ and FPN™, Calibrate® Technologies evaluates ruminal starch digestibility and NDFd. GPN™ measures how digestible and available starch will be to the rumen microbes. FPN™ measurements indicate how digestible the fiber will be and as a result how much rumen fill there will be.

"Knowledge gained from rumen degradable starch testing and NDFd testing can help you optimize your rations," says Winsryg, "regardless of the feeding climate you find yourself in this year."

For more information call: (800) 635-5701, email: or go to:

Calibrate® Technologies provides the dairy industry’s first rapid starch and fiber test with an online nutritional calculator to help provide ration recommendations to nutritionists and producers on rumen digestibility of forages and feedstuffs. For additional information, visit or call (800) 635-5701.

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