NutriOpt – The Solution to Low Forage Rations this Winter

13 August 2018

By Dr Mark Little MVB CertDHH PhD MRCVS & Anne Marie Crowley MSc

Due to the extreme dry conditions this summer, most farms are facing forage shortages to meet production requirements this autumn and winter, and as everyone knows, if forage stocks are utilised in the same way as previous years, they will not be sufficient to last until spring.

However, while most advisors are concentrating on balancing supply and demand through alternative feeds and forages - or even culling stock - Trouw Nutrition believes that if we focus ultimately on rumen function, dairy and beef cattle can be maintained cost-effectively and continue to be productive.

It is essential to know two things:

  1. The actual levels of forage stocks available on the farm
  2. The minimum requirements of forage per animal

There are readily available silo measurement calculators which, along with an estimate of grass growth for the next three months, allow the calculation of potential forage availability. Trouw Nutrition’s Forage Budget Calculator, available through your local compounder, goes further and states minimum requirements for forage.

Optimal rumen activity

The minimum forage requirement for ruminants, is that level which maintains rumen function and natural cudding activity. This is 7kgDM for a 600kg cow, as set out in the screenshot example above. At lower levels of forage and increased use of compound feed, there is a greater likelihood of rumen acidosis.

Trouw Nutrition’s ‘NutriOpt’ system of models, services and products, developed over many years of research, identifies the key aspects of rumen function, namely upper limits for acid load and lower limits for fibre index. This allows for maintenance of optimal rumen activity by balancing available feed raw materials and identifying any need for rumen buffers and yeast products, even with lower forage intake.

Having established that at least minimum forage requirements can be met, further energy needed for maintenance and production can be made up from a variety of non-forage sources. In conjunction with your compounder’s nutritional advisor and NutriOpt feed models, it is possible to formulate balanced rations to meet specific on-farm scenarios.  For example, a dairy farm in the south-west with 100 spring calving cows may be experiencing the following:

  • Limited but improving grazing through to end October
  • Utilising first cut silage to balance grass shortfall
  • Using the forage calculator, he will have 150 tonnes of 25%DM silage left and up to a further 200 tonnes of September silage to be made
  • Need average 6.5kgDM/day (26kg/day fresh) x 100 cows x 120 days = 312t for 4 months for milking and dry cows until turnout on 1st March.
  • Silage available per cow is 350t divided by 120 days = 3t/day divided by 100 cows = 30kg/cow (7.5kgDM).
  • The available silage meets minimum rumen requirement
  • For milking cows, meet the shortfall with 0.5kg/litre of a NutriOpt formulated compound
  • For dry cows, feed 2kg of pre-calver compound feed per day

Using this example, while 350t of silage for 100 cows may appear less than sufficient, focusing instead on the actual minimum requirement to maintain rumen health shows it to be more than adequate. Knowing this information, individual farmers can budget for how best to meet their farm requirements either by purchasing additional forage or compound feed, depending on cost/kgDM and the nutritional balance.

Production, health & profitability

So, in what are undoubtedly extremely challenging circumstances, by utilising available nutritional expertise there is still the opportunity to maintain production and health targets while minimising the detrimental effects on profitability.

In summary:

  • Calculate your forage needs
  • Work out what forage stores you will have on the farm
  • Determine any shortfall
  • Develop a feed plan in conjunction with your compound feed supplier’s nutritionist to ensure deficits are met economically