The William H. Miner

Agricultural Research Institute

Miner Institute
Farm Report

HIGHER FORAGE RATIONS FOR 2013? SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER

There are many benefits to feeding high forage rations to dairy cows. Doing so successfully takes planning and forethought. In review of our own feeding trials along with work conducted by Dr Larry Chase of Cornell University, here are some points to consider and reference guidelines of forage quality and ration parameters.

What we are considering high forage rations are rations with nearly 60% forage or higher, fed to high production cows, >100lbs milk. The benefits of higher forage rations include the following, as noted in a survey of producers feeding high forage rations conducted by Dr Chase:
1. Improved milk components
2. Improved $IOFC
3. Less metabolic disorders, less acidosis
4. Less foot problems
5. Increase cow longevity
6. Less purchased grain
7. Lower vet costs.
8. Improved whole farm nutrient balance: less imported nutrients (P).

The standard nutritional guideline of high production cows consuming 1.2% of their BW as NDF is far exceeded with highly digestible forages. With highly digestible forage, consumption of 1.5% of BW as NDF is common in high production cows, with even higher values for low cows. With high quality forage, more needs to be fed in order to maintain rumen health and not simply allow more grain to be consumed as part of total TMR intake.

High Quality forages required: In our experience, 24 h NDF digestibility of total TMR needs to be >60%. The individual forages both CS as BMR and grass silage were >55% NDFD24. Stage of plant maturity is the single greatest factor determining quality; grasses at vegetative/boot stage with NDF <52%, legumes at bud NDF 40-45%. Corn varieties selected for high fiber and/or high starch digestibility. Next is preservation, pack density >45lbs/ft3 at a minimum, the tighter the better. Forage harvested too mature, too dry, too wet or loosely packed, will not work in high forage rations.

Farm Management considerations:
Feeding high forage rations and maintaining high milk production is possible. It takes planning and the proper mindset of producer and nutritionist. Forage quality needs to be consistent, as it becomes a higher proportion of the diet; variable quality will have greater effect on intake and digestion. Forage inventory needs to be increased 15-30% or more and requires segregated storage space based on quality/NDFD; not all cows need or will respond to the higher quality forage (i.e. tail-enders). Is the TMR mixer big enough to mix bulkier loads and in summer aerobic stability of the TMR will need to be monitored. Consider the need for crop acres, storage space and time to build forage inventory. Old ways of harvest may need to change to get the amount and quality of forage required.

Best wishes for 2013. It is not too soon to start planning for higher forage rations.

— Kurt Cotanch

* Reference:
Larry Chase. 2012. High forage rations for dairy cattle-how far can we go? Advanced Dairy Nutrition Short Course proceedings.

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The Miner Institute Farm Report is written primarily for farmers and other agricultural professionals in the Northeastern U.S. and Eastern Canada. Most articles deal with dairy and crops topics, but also included are articles dealing with environmental issues and global agriculture as well as editorial commentary.

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