Feed efficiency, feed costs are the largest expenses on your dairy, so getting the most milk possible from each pound fed to your cows has a tremendous impact on profitability.
Many factors impact how well a cow converts feed to milk, including heat and humidity, feed quality, breed, reproductive status and other factors. But how and what you feed cows has the greatest impact.
Joel Pankowski, Manager of Field Technical Services for Arm & Hammer Animal and Food production offers four factors to consider when emphasizing feed efficiency in your herd:
Precision and accuracy are important to avoid feed variation. Deliver the same ration to your cow at the same time, every time. This includes collecting and measuring refusals. Dedicate a person or small group of employees to manage the feeding system to reduce inconsistencies.
Measure by lactation stage
Create a feed efficiency index by dividing energy corrected milk by estimated dry matter intake. Feed efficiency changes depending on where cows are in their lactation cycle.
As a guideline, fresh and high producing, early lactation cows will generally be more efficient and have a feed efficiency number around 1.6. These cows mobilize more body reserves, eat less and make high volumes of milk. In contrast, late lactation cows could be around 1.3. These cows aren’t producing as much milk and tend to gain weight.
Feed high quality forages
Higher quality forages tend to move through the cow at a faster rate compared to forages with lower digestibility. This difference in digestibility impacts feed efficiency, as forages that are more digestible have a greater impact on rumen performance and milk production.
Include the right feed ingredients
To improve feed efficiency, use ingredients that fit into two categories:
1- Those that improve rumen microbial growth. These ingredients would increase microbial growth and allow for better breakdown of feed ingredients.
2- Rumen bypass supplements. As the description suggests, these products go past the rumen and directly to the hind gut to deliver nutrients the cow can’t deliver through fermentation in the rumen.
Even as feeding and nutrition impacts feed efficiency, the genetics of the cow play a role as well. A genomic test has been developed to help producers identify and select for cows that do a better job of converting feed to milk.
As feed costs and milk prices fluctuate, it’s important to stay on top of feed efficiency. Consistent delivery of a ration that includes high quality forages and feed ingredients that deliver optimal nutrients in the rumen and hind gut help with feed conversion, regardless of stage of lactation.
For more information about improving feed efficiency on your dairy, including how to use genomics to select a more efficient herd, watch this Bovinews webinar.