Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Feed & Nutrition

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


The science surrounding protein and energy nutrition, no matter the livestock species, is a couple of generations ahead of mineral nutrition – particularly trace mineral nutrition. Yet finally there are signs that mineral nutrition science might one day catch up.

One sign of progress is industry and academic interests using ‘organic’ minerals in lieu of inorganic forms of zinc, manganese, copper and selenium. The initial focus is on reproductive issues and on enhancing immune response and milk quality – areas where trace mineral availability may be limiting. Another issue is environmental accumulation of minerals in manure spread on cropland.

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The ability of dairy cows to convert feedstuffs into products for human consumption is generally referred to as feed efficiency and is expressed as pounds of milk produced per pound of dry matter (DM) consumed. This expression represents a gross measure of feed efficiency and does not account for nutrients partitioned to reproduction, growth and tissue deposition. Thus, interpretation of the value obtained should consider stage of lactation, age and stage of gestation for the herd in question.

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Nutritionist Jess Argyle of Jerome, Idaho, says despite higher prices for rolled corn and regionally imported ration components, dairy producers should push for more milk and higher components, being careful not to lose milk production while looking for good buys on commodities.

“Don’t short-change the cows. Push for production,” Argyle says. “I’ve never been able to cut out or cut back on feed and save money. We always lose more in production than what we can save in cutting back on feed.”

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Are your feed costs high? The most expensive feeds are those with high levels of protein (greater than 20 percent protein). Testing for MUN (milk urea nitrogen) in the milk can help you determine the correct level of protein in the feed.

There are other reasons for testing for MUN:

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For dairy producers wishing to improve their profitability, the first feed investment that needs to be made in improving milk production is dry matter intake (DMI) conversions, says Marvin Hoekema, president of Dairy Decisions Consulting, LLC, in Visalia, California. The reason is these conversions are 40 to 50 percent of a dairy operation’s budget, “meaning there is real money on the table.”

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Milk fat depression (MFD) syndrome is a prevalent problem in many dairy herds feeding high-yielding dairy cows. A significant increase in understanding of MFD syndrome occurred in the last several years, and, clearly, different factors may be acting individually or together to result in a lower milk fat content. This article is focused on some of the possible dietary factors involved with MFD.

One of the first steps nutritionists evaluate when they face a MFD problem is the dietary effective neutral detergent fiber (efNDF). Penn State University developed a method to evaluate the dietary efNDF which is based on the particle size of the forages or the total mixed ration. A minimum dietary efNDF guideline of 22 percent is required to provide a healthy rumen environment and maximize a cow’s intake, milk yield and composition.

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