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Evaluating feed additives to include in rations

Michael Hutjens for Progressive Dairy Published on 04 February 2021

Interest in feed additives will continue and be influenced by new research results, advertising and profit margins. When milk prices drop, dairy farmers may pull feed additives out to reduce feed costs.

This decision can result in lost milk yield, lowered fertility and impaired immunity. The table outlines additives in categories that can assist dairy farmers, consultants, feed company nutritionists and veterinarians in deciding if an additive should be included. By definition, a feed additive is a feed ingredient added to the ration for a non-nutrient role. Examples could be sodium bicarbonate as a rumen buffer and monensin as a rumen microbial modifier. Feed additives are added in low concentrations to affect rumen, blood and tissue responses.

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In the table, several additives are nutrients, such as B vitamins and trace minerals, but dairy producers and nutritionists may consider these as feed additives. Only lactating and dry cow feed additives are included (no calf or heifer feed additives). Each additive is discussed as its function, suggested level of inclusion, benefit-to-cost ratio based on milk production response versus cost to add to the ration (not including higher dry matter costs and not including fertility, health or lameness benefits), feeding strategy and recommendation [Hutjens’ assessment]. Three status groups are listed below.

  • Recommended: Include as needed

  • Experimental: Additional research and studies are needed

  • Evaluative: Monitor on individual farms and specific situations

The following additives are recommended for various phases of the gestation and lactation cycles.

  • Lactating cows: Monensin, buffer pack, yeast product, silage inoculant, organic trace minerals and biotin.

  • Close-up dry cows: Monensin, yeast product, silage inoculant, organic trace minerals including chromium, rumen-protected choline and DCAD balancers.

  • Fresh cows: Monensin, buffer pack, yeast product, silage inoculant, organic trace minerals including chromium, rumen-protected choline and calcium boluses or supplementation.  end mark

PHOTO: Photo by Mike Dixon.

Feed additives 

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Michael Hutjens
  • Michael Hutjens

  • Professor of Animal Sciences Emeritus
  • University of Illinois – Urbana

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