Feeding cows in a way that maximizes production and income over feed costs starts with a healthy rumen.

“We need to focus on cows having good rumen health 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said dairy consultant Mary Beth de Ondarza during a recent episode of the Hoard’s Dairyman “Herd It Here” podcast.

As the owner of Paradox Nutrition LLC, de Ondarza works with many farms in the northeastern part of the country. She said that on many excellent dairies, there is an opportunity to reduce the number of hours a day when the rumen pH is below 5.8.

“When they do that, they are going to see even higher production,” she noted.

Reaching this goal involves many areas; great feeding management and cow comfort are two keys de Ondarza listed. She said farmers must also control starch fermentation. “I like some rapidly digestible starch in the diet, but you can have too much, and that is going to cause rumen issues,” she explained. The ration also needs adequate physically effective fiber as well as undigestible fiber.

A low rumen pH, even for just a few hours a day, can lead to reduced and variable feed intake. Fiber digestibility will be reduced, and rumen microbial production will also be lower, de Ondarza noted.

“Optimizing rumen microbial synthesis is a huge factor in terms of feed efficiency,” she said. “That can help you reduce feed costs and, of course, improve production.”

When formulating rations, de Ondarza said it is always most efficient to provide needed nutrients to those cows that will respond and not overfeed nutrients to cows that won’t respond. If possible, she likes when farms can feed four separate groups: the fresh cows, the high-producing mature cows, the high-producing first lactation cows, and the low-producing cows.

“Early lactation cows are going to respond if I give them a high-quality diet,” she said, which includes amino acid balancing, higher levels of fat, and proven feed additives. On the other hand, de Ondarza said late-lactation cows are on “cruise control,” as they can easily maintain milk production while controlling body condition on a more basic diet. “That can save the farm a lot of money,” she said.

To learn more, listen to the “Herd It Here” podcast episode, titled “A closer look at feed efficiency.” This episode was sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
June 13, 2024
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