Feeding liquid whey to dairy cows ~ Will it work for you?

CW-MR-1-Feeding Wheyby Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Benefits of feeding whey to dairy cows was a hot topic at the Central NY CCE 2013 Dairy Day.
“Some people came specifically to hear what the speakers had to say about feeding liquid whey,” commented CNY Dairy Specialist David Balbian, event coordinator.
Whey is a by-product of yogurt that has been made available to dairy farmers through yogurt producers in New York State.
Cornell Dairy Science Specialist and Professor, Dr. Larry Chase led a producer panel, which featured dairy nutritionists Harry Bristol of Lutz Feed and Brian Rapp of Rapp Dairy Nutrition, LLC.
Dr. Chase reported seeing liquid whey fed in three ways; free choice in tanks, tie stall barns that actually pump it through the existing water systems and farms that mix it in with the TMR.
“You can’t feed too much of it in with your TMR before it gets wet and sloppy,” Chase commented.
Bristol said he first became involved when two dairy farmers he worked with decided to try whey from Chobani about two years ago. “They said, ‘we’re going to feed this stuff and we want you to figure out how!’”
Bristol said he’d had no previous experience with whey and along with the farmers, learned through trial and error. “After I figured out that you could kind of work with this stuff, I started talking it up on a couple of other farms who were large enough to do something with it.”
Once the cows tried it and discovered it tasted good they began to drink it readily. One farm replaced about 10 pounds of dry matter with the whey. “Their milk production level didn’t get better, but their components really came up!”
Bristol spoke about another farm that began feeding whey and took away corn meal in increments. “They were milking pretty good to begin with and they didn’t get worse, but their components also came up significantly.”
Rapp commented that he also saw improvements in components when farms began feeding whey.
Bristol said his experience shows each cow can use about 20-25 pounds of whey per day.
And although whey varies in its composition, usually it is approximately 5 percent dry matter, which on a dry matter basis, breaks down to about 55-70 percent sugar, 10-15 percent fat and 5-10 percent protein, with the remainder as mineral and other material.
“Potassium in particular runs 3-4 percent,” said Bristol. “Which lactating animals need, especially with high production and/or in humid weather conditions where internal water balance is critical.”
However, because dry cows do not do well with higher potassium, neither Bristol nor Rapp recommends whey for dry cows.
Bristol and Rapp said that although whey is fine for heifers, if fed free choice it can increase body condition excessively. “If you only feed forage and whey, you’ll get chubby heifers!”
Rapp said that many of his clients add about 20 pounds of whey per cow, per day, to their TMR.
“If fed in a TMR, there will be a physical limit of about 20-25 pounds per cow,” Bristol stated. “More than that and the mix will get slimy.”
Whey is about 95 percent water and although it is observed that when fed free choice, cows will decrease their water intake significantly, it is still essential to provide them with fresh water.
Bristol does not recommend using whey in traditional tie stall barns with water buckets.
Because of the large loads of about 55,000 pounds to 75,000 pounds that are delivered daily or every two days, farms feeding liquid whey usually have large herds of cows — and storage may present a problem. Some farms are using above ground tanks, while others have had good luck with installing tanks in the ground.
“Producers need storage for a trailer load of whey, and pumps to offload and get it to the cows and TMRs,” said Bristol. “There also needs to be a way to dispose of any leftover whey into manure systems. Old whey is not good.”
Although no documentation is available on how long it will keep, whey does need a fairly rapid turnover. “There is no rule to shelf life,” commented Bristol. “But, it will keep for at least two days.”
Bristol said when they first begin receiving whey the cows might gorge on it. “There is an adjustment period where the cows can suck down too much, but they even out. If you see loose manure give it a few days,” he advised.
Balbian commented that there is a future possibility of several smaller farms splitting trailer loads allowing them to get in on the program. “There is likely to be more whey available than less,” stated Balbian. “All of these production facilities are dealing with how to get rid of this stuff.”
The common opinion of Chase, Rapp and Bristol is that feeding liquid whey is beneficial to both the cows and the producer.
“It was worth $50,000 a year to one dairy producer,” Rapp said. “And they were resistant at first! I would say certainly it’s something you don’t have to be afraid of!”
“Whey can replace some purchased grain, add needed sugar to the diet and help stick the TMR together to prevent cows from sorting,” added Rapp. “When you really look at it, whey just makes sense.”
For more information contact Central NY Dairy Specialist Dave Balbian at drb23@cornell.edu.

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