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Planning ahead for 2010

Carla Kuehn Published on 19 November 2009
It would be nice to have a crystal ball to predict what 2010 will bring for the dairy industry. After getting through the past several months of high feed costs coupled with low milk prices, there are still feelings of uncertainty and uneasiness on how we will contend with events in the new year. While we can all hope for a year of relief from volatile markets, we certainly cannot expect market stability. Therefore, you should continue to make business decisions with caution.

Because of this insecurity, plan ahead for things you can do differently from last year to the present. Paying attention to the details of the feeds that you’re using, the diets you’re feeding, and products that are available, can certainly make an impact on the desired end result.

Here are some practices to consider:

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Manage feeds and forages
When considering details that make a difference, the feeds and forages used in your operation are an important place to start. Low-priced commodities that offer something of value to the diet can control feed costs and maintain production. However, they may not always be the best solution. Always consider the storage, stability and availability of the product before using a commodity in the diet. Forages comprise the majority of your herd’s diet.

As the year progresses, you can continue to reap the benefits of last year’s forage management and ensilage practices. If something didn’t work, find out why and be prepared to make an adjustment when this year’s forage harvest approaches. Genetic selection of forage hybrids will continue to be an important part of the feed decisions you need to make. Utilizing corn forage hybrids with maximum forage digestibility will be important as it is the foundation of the dairy diet. Research will continue on the different corn grains, as their genetics can affect starch utilization. Feed testing laboratories continually offer new analyses for nutrients that better define the use of forages and feeds. Laboratories will continue to refine these tests and nutritionists will continue to apply this information into formulation software.

Balance diets with data
Ration balancing has moved past balancing for crude protein and net energy. It’s becoming more important to gather detailed information on nutrients – such as digestibility, rate of ruminal degradation, and bioavailability – to make it possible to balance diets for metabolizable protein and energy. Utilizing this specific information on carbohydrate and protein fractions will be necessary to maximize microbial protein production. Continue to closely monitor the fatty acid profiles of feeds. The composition of the fatty acids of feeds that are consumed, in addition to those that reach the small intestine after they have gone through the rumen, can influence milk fat and reproduction.

Put beneficial bacteria to work
Utilization of feeds that maximize the efficiency of the rumen will be important in the future. Direct-fed microbials (DFMs) are natural feed additives used in calves, lactating cattle, or any animal in a stressful state. Feeding DFMs can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the rumen to establish a desired microbial balance. Fungal DFMs, such as live yeast or yeast extracts, can benefit those microbes that help digest fiber by utilizing lactic acid, which increases rumen pH to favorable conditions for the fiber-digesting microbes.

Extracts of Aspergillus oryzae can improve fiber digestion by stimulating the growth of rumen fungi that help to break digestible fiber that is bound to the indigestible lignin. Bacterial DFMs, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, are active in the lower gut and have little effect on rumen fermentation. Their function is to produce lactic acid which lowers the pH in the small intestine and inhibits pathogenic microorganisms from being absorbed. Lactic acid bacteria may be beneficial to your transition cows as they undergo much stress and are prone to disease.

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Deliver nutrients on target
There is a vast array of products on the market. Encapsulated products are ones that can efficiently deliver nutrients where they are needed. Utilizing nutrients in an encapsulated form allows them to bypass rumen fermentation, diminish the rate at which they become available to the rumen, or enable a sensitive ingredient or nutrient to survive feed processing. The encapsulation process involves applying a coating to a nutrient or substance that controls the interaction of the nutrients with the environment. Although the process can be expensive, encapsulation offers us the advantages in target feeding nutrients.

Encapsulated vitamins are one example of protected nutrients. Feeding encapsulated vitamins will minimize their degradation in the rumen and enable them to be delivered to the small intestine. Depending on the vitamin fed, they may elicit responses in improved milk production or milk components, improved reproduction, improved foot health, less metabolic disease, or more efficient growth in calves or heifers. Encapsulating urea offers the opportunity to use urea nitrogen without wasting it. The release of nitrogen is slowed down and therefore it becomes available to the microbes at a slower rate, which improves its utilization. The release of rumen nitrogen can be matched to the available carbohydrate and less nitrogen is wasted through the urine.

With fluctuating protein costs, this type of technology offers opportunities to provide a steady rate of nitrogen into the rumen for microbial protein synthesis. Balancing rations for the correct amount and ratio of amino acids will be important as herd production continues to increase. Encapsulation of methionine or lysine allows these amino acids to escape rumen degradation and be available for absorption into the intestine. Hydroxy-analog versions of methionine are also available. In these situations, the amino acid is not encapsulated, but rather a modified form is supplemented and this form will enter the bloodstream of the animal.

Maintain hydration year-round
Hydration products will continue to be of use in your herd’s diets. Hydration products can be used to combat heat stress or shipping stress. Keeping your animals hydrated during such events is important as they need to maintain their proper electrolyte balance and stay on feed. And don’t forget about dehydration in winter. Winter dysentery is a common seasonal setback that can result in decreased intake and milk production for a short period of time. Maintaining hydration during these events is imperative.

Stay current
One discipline that will help carry your operation through the uncertain months ahead is to continue observing and making changes to your management practices and feeding recommendations. As you learn to adjust to current markets and make adjustments for the different seasonal or stress events, your operation will become more efficient. You’ll continue to gain ground this year.

The dairy industry likely will not find that crystal ball, but we can all adapt and learn. PD

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Dr. Carla Kuehn is a nutritionist at the Form-A-Feed and TechMix companies, headquartered in Stewart, Minnesota. For more information, send an e-mail to or call Kuehn at (800) 422-3649.

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