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Ration Management: Tips to be Proactive Versus Reactive

12:44PM Mar 13, 2014
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When it comes to managing rations for dairy cows, it is always better to be proactively making decisions versus reactively. That’s according to Dr. Dwight Roseler, a dairy nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition in Ohio.

Roseler notes that evaluating feedstuffs with proper methods and having a ration model that predicts performance accurately are critical when looking into the crystal ball for future herd performance. "You want to be prepared and know what to expect from the forages and total ration that is going to be fed," says Roseler. "Being proactive and looking ahead allows the opportunity to make better decisions about ration costs and income over feed cost."

For example, if a herd is targeting a certain level of milk production and it knows through proper testing that those forages on hand are not adequate to maintain or achieve that production level, then a decision is needed to determine the best cost ration to achieve the most profit for the operation. In some cases, forages or byproducts can be purchased that complement the existing inventory to achieve best profit. Depending upon market conditions, the best profit scenario might be to feed the current inventory of forages and feeds.

Outside of just overall animal health and milk production potential, evaluating feeds ahead of time, can also help with budgeting and inventories. "Running the correct feed analysis at harvest can help decide how current inventories will be best used. Then running "best profit" rations into future months will determine strategies for optimal cash flow and profit," he says.

Feed and forage testing
With a multitude of tests available to assist in evaluating forages and byproducts, it can be a challenge to determine which tests to run to make the best decisions. Here is a look at some of the tests and what insights they may offer when formulating rations and projecting budgets. The frequency of testing will depend upon herd size and bunker/silo size.

  • Rumen degradable starch
    • Rumen degradable starch measures how much starch is actually available to the rumen microbes when the feed is fed. Rumen degradable starch tests give producers an idea of how their animals are digesting starch and what impact that might have on performance. The labs using the Calibrate® Technologies methods are accurate for predicting performance over time.
  • Neutral detergent fiber digestibility
    • Neutral detergent fiber digestibility determines how digestible the fiber in an ingredient will be and as a result how much rumen fill there will be. Rumen fill has a direct impact on dry matter intake (DMI), diet digestibility and feed efficiency. In fact, research shows that a one unit increase in in-vitro digestibility of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) was associated with a 0.37 pound per day increase in DMI and a 0.55 pound per day increase in 4 percent fat corrected milk yield per cow.[1] The Calibrate® Technologies method provides good measurements of fiber indigestibility for accurate performance prediction over time.
  • VFA analysis & ammonia
    • Volatile fatty acids analysis gives producers an idea of what the fermentation has done in the silo, in terms of proper fermentation levels, and is useful in predicting the performance in terms of rumen microbial performance and milk protein production. Excess ammonia from forages can be wasted if not properly balanced across all the diets in a herd.
  • Amino acids
    • Balancing diets for amino acids takes precedence over balancing metabolizable protein or crude protein. Accurate amino acid profiles of proteins and byproducts provides knowledge to properly balance low protein (14 to 15 percent) diets with milk urea nitrogen (MUN) tank levels below 10. This improves protein purchases and reduces nitrogen losses.
  • Fatty acids
    • Fatty acids provide a more accurate measure of true digestible energy coming from the fat of forages and ingredients. Fatty acid profile improves the ability to balance poly-unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) load which has a bearing on reproductive performance and milk fat yield.

"Evaluating feedstuffs prior to feeding will help to optimize your rations for optimal health, milk components, income over feed cost and overall profit potential," says Roseler.

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition