Prepare Your Dairy for Feeding Challenges Ahead

Prepare Your Dairy for Feeding Challenges Ahead

2012 Drought Calls for Forage Testing, Ration Reformulation in Coming Months

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The full impact of this year’s drought has yet to be calculated, but reports of hay and forage shortages swirl throughout the industry, and producers in nearly every region of the country are concerned about feed cost, quality and availability. The rising cost of feed has dairy producers everywhere on edge despite higher projected milk prices. Tight corn supplies and the resulting higher prices per bushel are expected to force producers to explore alternative energy sources. “Corn prices are already 21% higher than they were last year,” says Joel Newman, president of the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). Plus, corn for feed and residual use is projected 725 million bushels lower—one of the largest declines ever1—which validates why dairy producers are extremely concerned about the feed situation this fall and into 2013. This year’s corn silage crop is also expected to be plagued by quality issues that negatively affect cow health and performance, including higher-than-usual nitrate and mycotoxin levels. Other nutritional challenges include:

  • Alfalfa hay production is forecast at 54.9 million tons, down more than 10 million tons from last year. Based on early August crop conditions, yields are expected to average 2.92 tons per acre, down 0.48 tons per acre from last year. If realized, this will be the lowest yield since 1988.1
  • Some commonly used grain or by-product commodity prices have increased in cost 20% to 50% from July to August.

Keep Nutrition Top-of-Mind
This scenario means dairy nutritionists and producers will need to be at the top of their game when it comes to feeding this year’s crop and utilizing alternative feedstuffs and ingredients. Regardless of feed sources, quality and availability, it is critical to maintain production to generate optimal income, notes Dr. Elliot Block, Senior Manager, Technology, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition. “It will be important to balance diets with accurate inputs to get the most out of your ingredients, diets and cows,” he says. “Producers and nutritionists are facing especially challenging times in the coming months, which means it will be critical to deliver energy, protein and fiber from consistent sources.”

Develop Your Strategy
To determine your current ration situation, evaluate your forage and feeding management practices to identify areas where additional focus is needed. Keep the following recommendations top-of-mind as you consider ration changes and reformulation:

  • Revisit the potential of precision feeding. Focus on grouping cows by production level and balancing rations that avoid over- or under-feeding nutrients, and optimizing income over feed cost.

    <.li> Test all forages. Knowing the nutrient content of feed ingredients is imperative this year since values will vary greatly due to weather conditions during the growing season. Forage testing is going to be an insurance program this year, especially as it relates to molds and mycotoxins. Once forages are tested using wet chemistry analysis, identify which feeds should be included in each diet for maximum production.

  • Sort forages by quality. If possible, segregate higher-quality forages from lower-quality forages and let your nutritionist know about these inventories. That way you can strategically feed forages to specific groups of cows to reap the greatest reward per pound of feed.
  • Keep rumen health a top priority. A healthy rumen environment, regardless of ration changes, is critical for consistent performance. Focus on rumen pH and maintaining a neutral environment to allow rumen microbes to thrive. Feeding rumen buffers can ensure the rumen environment is maintained in the midst of ration changes. By delivering protein building-blocks from sources like FERMENTEN ® Rumen Fermentation Enhancer, rumen microbes can remain healthy, can further break down feed and utilize nutrients to their fullest potential.
  • Use proven ingredients when forages won’t suffice. While forages provide a cost-effective nutrient source, supplements can be fed to meet nutritional needs and provide a greater return. For example, proven fat sources like MEGALAC ® Rumen Bypass Fat can deliver the energy cows need to maximize production. When purchasing ingredients ask if the ingredients are from AFIA Safe Feed/Safe Food certified facilities, which means they meet the highest level of quality in the feed industry. For more information visit http://www.safefeedsafefood.org/main/home.cfm .

“Your nutritionist can be a huge asset in helping you manage income over feed cost and formulate diets that maintain animal health, milk production and reproductive performance,” says Dr. Block. The report Future patterns of U.S. grains, biofuels, and livestock and poultry feeding from AFIA and The Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics indicates there are three main drivers impacting feed availability and cost: biofuels demands, global demand/exports and annual crop yields—and these factors will remain influential as farmers strive to feed a growing population. Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, with headquarters in Princeton, N.J., is a North American leader in offering a complete family of innovative, research-proven dairy feed ingredients to improve producer profitability. To learn more about Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition, visit www.AHDairy.com.

10.09.2012