Feeding for tomorrow

How to get the best returns on feed inputs on farm

With the sudden and significant decrease in the projected dairy payout, there has been a consequent change in purchase decisions and a noticeable general tightening of belts.

Many farmers are assessing purchase options more carefully than in prior years. While the proverb tells us that we have to spend money to make money, making informed purchase decisions are crucial and a cost/benefit analysis helps to ensure that any outlay will have a positive effect on the productivity and sustainability of the farm. It is important to firstly assess the benefits that can be derived from the purchase of supplement feeds. On a dairy farm pasture and feed supplements are used to:
• Improve milk production per cow and per hectare
• Maintain and improve animal condition
• Grow younger cows (1st & 2nd calvers) into mature cows
• Get cows back in calf
• Keep pastures in optimum growth stage, i.e. prevent the grazing residuals and pre-grazing covers from getting too low.

When purchasing and feeding supplements it is essential to keep in mind the results you want. Most feeds can fill a feed gap and keep cows behind a hot wire as long as they contain sufficient fibre to keep the cows happy. However to improve stock performance, feed quality is king and the mega joules (MJ) of metabolisable energy (ME) per kg of dry matter (DM) is the key driver. This is the amount of energy available to the animal after accounting for losses in the faeces, urine and gasses (e.g. methane).

This energy is used to maintain weight, increase milk production, help in pregnancy and for conditioning. To assess the real benefits from supplement feeding there have been many research projects outlining production and fertility benefits. Based on DairyNZ research, an increase of one body condition score on a dairy cow equates to 15kg of milksolids over the first six weeks of lactation and the cows will start cycling seven days earlier. If the cows calve half a score higher
(e.g. from 4.5 to 5) and based on a $5 payout for a 600 cow farm, the outcome translates in to extra dollars as below:
• 600 cows * 7.5 kg MS* $5 $ 22,500
• 600 cows * 3.5 days * 1.8 kg MS/day $ 18,900
Total $ 41,400

It is a lot harder to quantify the benefits of feeding into dollars than to look at the invoices coming in, especially since the benefits are in different categories and over more than one season. Less stock losses and fewer animal health problems are certainly benefits of feeding the cows closer to their requirements, but these can be hard to quantify and are often hard to pick in one year of accounts.

When choosing feeds to put condition on in the autumn or winter, some feeds are more effective than others. The MJ ME/kg DM is an important consideration, but also higher carbohydrate feeds such as grain or higher fat feeds like palm kernel meal are more effective at putting condition on than pasture or pasture silage.

The feed team at Farmlands supports the move into a more efficient use of dairy supplements and has a number of staff members who specialise in this area to provide advice on the supplements feeds most appropriate for each farming system.