Buffer feeding advice: The days of feeding for sake of it are gone

They say no two years are ever the same and that is certainly true with 2019 so far.

Although weather of late has not been consistent we have been somewhat spoilt with the grazing conditions to date for the vast majority of farmers.

For many of us, we are now in unchartered territory due to this weather — with some farmers being one to two weeks ahead of the recommended percentage of the farm grazed for this time of year, whilst others are almost one month ahead, regardless, it is all bonus territory.

The biggest headaches at present are what fields to get grazed as covers are good on a lot of farms.

The query from here on with farmers is what do I buffer or supplementary feed alongside grass.

There are some farmers, with a very specific small frame, low production cow type, who will feed the bare minimum of concentrates in the parlour in order to solely carry calcined magnesite in order to minimise the risk of grass tetany.

This is by far the minority as for the vast majority of farmers with a bigger cow yielding more or those with a high stocking rate, a 4kg-8kg dry matter (DM) buffer fed alongside grazing will be fed for the coming weeks and months.

Modern dairy cow

We have been breeding the modern dairy cow for almost 50 years and to not feed her correctly is like having a Formula One car and fuelling it with fresh air and water — you get out what you put in!

The question I always say to farmers is this: “What are you trying to achieve with buffer feeding, what is your goal by buffer feeding?”

The day of feeding for the sake of feeding is gone.

Use the advice out there, there is a wealth of knowledge in the feed sector, consult with your nutritionist or consultant.

My answer to the question is simply this. Leaving the cow to one side at the moment, we are feeding a fermentation vat i.e. the rumen. Up to 75% of all absorption of all nutrients occurs here and so anything that causes it to not function properly is meaning you are not maximising your ability to make a profit.

Lush grass which at this time of year is low in dry matter and high in protein can cause low rumen pH which can lend itself to acidosis.

It is worth remembering that if cows have clinical acidosis ie, loose dung, loss of body condition score (BCS), then the iceberg effect is present; SARA (sub-acute ruminal acidosis) will be widespread in the herd.

Importance of fibre

The lack of structural fibre to help buffer the rumen is of major importance when cows are on grass to combat this.

This coupled with high energy is the reason farmers buffer feed when on grass.

It helps the animal which is on a rising plane in terms of their dry matter intake (DMI) and also nutrition.

Benefits of buffer feeding

The benefits of buffer feeding with a mixer wagon revolve around keeping the DMI up in the cows along with maintaining BCS and those actions aid the following:

Improved cycling in cows and conception to service;

Maintaining and increasing milk yield, protein percentage and butterfat percentage;

Diluting urea in the blood from a high protein diet.

As I mentioned in last month’s article, purchasing a parlour concentrate feed without the presence of a live yeast, rumen buffer and/or rumen stabilizer is not a recommendation I sit easy with.

Try to help the cow and she will help you in return, and for the majority of farmers you will never go back to how you fed your cows previously.

Farmers using a mixer wagon with cows out day and night at present, will typically feed a small 5kg DM buffer feed and this can have huge advantages.

Beyond the recommended levels of concentrate, you are using concentrate to make up a shortfall in DMI — hence it is more cost-effective to now add a buffer feed at this stage at 18c–25c/kg DM compared to extra concentrate at 37c/kg DM.

Have you started contemplating yet? The best time to feed this is pre-milking, commonly before evening milking.

Once a cow is milked her blood sugars drop and she is enticed to start eating post milking, if you feed a buffer feed after milking you are not maximising the grazing bout the cows give you post milking as the cow will not graze out to the correct residuals as she will have walked and excreted which will have tainted the grass making it less than an appetizing meal.

If feeding in the parlour alone, you will certainly have to have rumen buffers present. Feeding too high a level of concentrate can cause the pH to drop which can lower DMI significantly for up to 2 hours after this feed.

Questions to ask yourself over the next month or so are

  • What is the correct level of protein which I should feed in the concentrate?
  • What is the manure like?
  • Is my milk protein and fat % fluctuating?
  • Focus on getting good levels of energy and digestible fibre into the supplement this time of year.
  • It all comes back to what you are trying to achieve. Be clever, ask, get advice, see the signs and act accordingly.
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