Cow comfort and feed efficiency emphasized at Central NY 2013 Dairy Day

CEW-MR-2-CNY Dairy Day1by Elizabeth A. Tomlin

Noted dairy speakers addressed a large audience at the CNY CCE annual 2013 Dairy Day at the Otesaga in Cooperstown. Speakers included CNY Dairy Specialist David Balbian; Cornell Dairy Science Specialist and Professor, Dr. Larry Chase; Dr. Rick Grant, President of the Wm. H. Miner Ag Research Institute; Lutz Feed representative Harry Bristol and Brian Rapp of Rapp Dairy Nutrition, LLC.

Dr. Chase led the agenda with a discussion on improving profitability through cutting feed costs, increasing feed efficiency, improving feed management and building milk components.

“In January, 81 percent of our milk check was from pounds of fat and protein,” Chase commented, explaining that 30 percent came from milk fat and 51 percent from protein. “So, what can you do in your herd to bump up components?” Chase asked.

He advised paying closer attention to feeding management strategies.

Providing adequate amounts of fiber will increase butterfat components. Better digestion of fiber will enhance those components. Using methods, such as adding whey, to total mixed ration (TMR) will reduce sorting and improve fiber intake. Watch cows for chewing, rumination and manure consistency. Look for variations in dry matter intake (DMI) and correlating milk components. Tracking pounds of milk components sold will give you valuable information about your feeding program. Adding amino acids, shifting ingredients and evaluating additives in the feed can improve milk components. Work with your nutritionist to make up a nutrient profile.

According to Chase, the main item related to your farm’s profitability is income over feed cost. “But, even when times are tough economically, we don’t want to shortchange our cows on groceries to produce milk!” Shortchanging the cows will lower your pounds of milk and adversely affect milk components — and your milk check.

Working on effective feeding and bunk management will help cut feed costs. Look for waste. Leftover feed may be fed back to a select group of animals instead of being disposed of. Bunk and silo face spillage should be minimized. Discourage birds from eating cow feed and keep outside feed covered.

Consider culling cows that are standing in the barn and not paying their way. Keeping problem cows, such as non-breeders, cows with a high somatic cell count (SCC), low milk producers and cows with other problems are costing you money.

“Some people have a lot more heifers than they need to replace the cows,” Chase stated. Look at your farm’s economics. “Maybe you don’t need all of those heifers.”

The sooner you move these animals out, the better off you are in terms of saving on feed costs and conserving forage.

Money lost because of neglecting herd health and calving, as well as milk quality that is not up to par, affect your profit margin. High SCC and PI count mean less income.

Chase emphasizes that consistent daily management is important in terms of profitability. Cow comfort is another aspect that affects your cow’s performance.

Dr. Rick Grant spoke to attendees about the economic consequences and key issues of cow comfort. “Overall, we need to focus more on the consistent economic benefits of keeping our cows comfortable and optimizing their management environment,” Grant said. “Research shows that variation in management environment can result in as much as a 29 pound, per cow, per day, difference in milk yield for herds fed the same ration — and with similar genetics!”
Grant reported that access to feed is the most critical component of cow management, with feeding for feed refusals, practicing routine feed push-up and adequate stalls per cow as the most important management factors.

“Insure feed 24/7!” Grant stated, acknowledging, “We don’t want to waste feed, but what does it cost to make sure we are never shorting them on feed?”
Meeting the cow’s time budget requirements is another important issue. “Minimizing time outside the pen is a key part of this — satisfying the cow’s needs for resting, eating, and ruminating can result in 5 to 8 pounds, per day, more milk and a lower incidence of lameness.”

Grant emphasized stall comfort as another “key to cow comfort.”

“Research suggests that for every additional hour you get your cows to lie down, they can produce 2 to 3.5 pounds, per day, more milk.”

Studies show that cows prioritize resting over eating. “They will give up feeding time — and DMI — in order to recoup lost lying time due to poor management environments. We can’t afford to make them face this no-win choice.”

On-farm case studies prove that cows respond to greater stall comfort with improved milk yield, lower SCC, fewer cases of lameness and less need to cull.
Overcrowding of stalls and feed bunks compromise long-term health and reproduction of the herd.

“About 120 percent stocking density of stalls and feed bunk is likely a critical point beyond which resting is reduced and you can expect performance to suffer. First-calf heifers will be hurt at modest levels of overcrowding such as 110-115 percent,” Grant said. “If you have mixed pens of heifers and mature cows — don’t overcrowd!”

Grant also reported that because of natural behavioral differences, such as eating more slowly and being less assertive, first-calf heifers would do much better if kept in a group separate from mature cows. Competition with older cows affects heifer’s DMI, body weight and resting ability. They ruminate up to 40 percent less than heifers kept in separate groups. “Heifers are more sensitive to overcrowding than previously thought.”

Research shows that heifers kept in separate pens for 1 month after calving increased their milk production significantly.

“Finally,” said Grant, “it doesn’t cost anything to be calm and considerate with your cows, and research shows us that they will produce about 3.5 to 13 percent more milk when handled gently and spoken to calmly in the parlor.”

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