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Feed & Nutrition

Learn about all aspects of the dairy cow ration, from harvest to storage and balancing additives to forage supplementation.

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What do we feed a cow? Cows can make milk from grass. A cow can produce more milk when they are fed ingredients with more energy. Do cows produce more milk with feed additives?

The basic ingredients of a ration fed to a cow are alfalfa, silage and corn grain. These ingredients together contribute fiber, protein, energy and calcium for the cow. Other feedstuffs can be added to better balance the ration, lower the feed cost and may produce more milk. Many of the feedstuffs are byproducts.

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The understanding of protein nutrition in dairy cows has been something of a challenge for dairy scientists and researchers over the years. This is largely due to the fact that a cow is a ruminant which causes her to have two sets of protein requirements: one for the microbes in the rumen and the second for her general metabolism. Protein metabolism in a ruminant goes through a different process than that of mono-gastric species such as swine and poultry. A better understanding of protein nutrition in our dairy cows has become necessary in recent years to:

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Forage neutral detergent fiber (NDF) is retained in the rumen longer and is therefore more filling than other feed components. Rumen fill can limit feed intake, especially for high-producing cows and cows fed high forage diets. There is great variation in the filling effects of forage fiber because of differences in digestion characteristics; forage fiber that digests and passes from the rumen quickly is less filling than forage fiber that digests and passes more slowly.

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Copper, according to internationally renowned dairy scientist Jesse P. Goff, is “the trace mineral where deficiency is common and toxicity is also common.”

That observation, combined with the wide array of bodily functions in the dairy cow that involve copper, makes it a good idea to keep an eye on this trace mineral in dairy cattle rations.

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Let’s look at the facts. Grain commodity prices are the highest in recent memory. Marginally producing hay plots could quickly be plowed to grow corn this year rather than alfalfa or grass hay. If this occurs, can you guess where the price of hay is headed?

The solution may be not just pastures but ‘well-managed’ pastures. Well-managed, irrigated perennial pasture may provide an overlooked alternative to producing high-quality forage to help balance feed requirements. Our purpose is to provide you with a few ideas to achieve the goal of well-managed pastures for dairy cows.

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In 10 minutes a day, six days a week or one hour per week you can keep your nutrition program in shape and performing optimally. The following are key monitors to track and evaluate each week. If you follow these every week, changes or deviations are quick signals to you that something in your nutrition program or cow management has changed.

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