Are you leaving money on the table with your forages?

Published on Thu, 08/25/2016 - 5:00pm

Fiber digestibility tests offer insights to maximize the value of high-quality forages.

Have you ever switched forages or made minor changes to the ration and had milk production drop? Even minor changes in forage quality can impact production in a big way. Having a handle on forage quality as well as a test to accurately measure forage quality will be key to maintaining milk production, especially with new high-quality alfalfa varieties, like HarvXtra® alfalfa, coming to market.

“If forage quality is unusually high or low, not average, NIR analysis can be less accurate,” says David Weakley, Ph.D., director of dairy forage research for Calibrate® Technologies. “If we look at the bar chart in Table 1, the vertical bars represent a typical frequency distribution of a lab’s alfalfa hay quality test results. The light bars at the ends of the ‘bell curve’ represent where alfalfa fiber quality is either unusually high or low. The analysis accuracy of these extremes is financially critical.”
As new varieties of high-quality alfalfa enter the marketplace, it’s important to measure and understand digestibility. High-quality forages are more digestible, and digestibility can have a big impact on rumen function.

For example, if you decide to change alfalfa varieties to a genetically enhanced variety with a 10-15 percent decreased lignin content, the digestibility of the fiber, and the resulting effect on rumen fill, will change. Research shows this reduction in lignin can result in a 10-15 percent increase in digestibility, proving minor changes in lignin can have a major impact on digestibility.[1] The use of a fiber digestibility test will ensure accurate utilization of forages in the ration and help sustain milk production.

To minimize potential variability in results and maximize forage performance, tests for neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFd) should be conducted, in conjunction with analysis for other essential nutrients. By providing more accurate insights into the quality of forages being fed, a fiber digestibility test can also help optimize the cows’ diet for higher intake and milk production or higher feed efficiency.

A review by Oba and Allen illustrated the impact fiber digestibility can have on milk production. The research showed a one-unit increase in the in-vitro digestibility of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) resulted in a 0.37-pound per day increase in dry matter intake and a 0.55-pound per day increase in 4 percent fat corrected milk yield per cow.[2]

Fiber digestibility tests give you an edge by providing precise insights where it matters most – in the rumen. These insights allow optimization of feed use in the ration to help achieve a higher standard of nutritional performance with benefits like an increase in forage utilization, higher animal performance and greater profit potential.

Want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth with your forages? Call 800-635-5701, email: or go to: to receive more information on forage quality tests.
[1] Parker et. al, 2016
[2] Oba and Allen, 1999


U.S. Government Asked to Help Dairy Farmers

As America’s dairy farmers endure low milk prices, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide relief by purchasing at least $100 million worth of cheese products for donation to the needy.

Global dairy demand has sagged in the past two years, due primarily to a reduction in purchases by China and Russia. NMPF said the measure that would help both farmers, and food insecure Americans who patronize food banks.  In a letter sent on Friday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, National Milk urged the department to use all of its available authorities to purchase $100 to $150 million of cheese.

“Dairy producers here in the United States need assistance to help endure this 18-month depression in milk prices,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF President and CEO. “This type of assistance would both help economically-strapped farmers, and also help those without ready access to nutritious dairy products.”

A cheese buying program of up to $150 million would allow for the distribution of as much as 90 million pounds of cheese to nonprofit food banks and NMPF said it would strengthen farm-level prices, increasing the incomes of all US dairy farmers by approximately $380 million.

Source: National Milk Producers Federation


CDCB adds new genetic trait in dairy cattle evaluations

With its August 2016 dairy cattle genetic evaluations, the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) introduced a new evaluation tool — Predicted Transmitting Ability for Cow Livability (PTA C.LIV) — for all breeds.  Livability (LIV) is one of several traits used to determine PTA for Productive Life (PL). Despite its high economic influence, livability had not been adequately accounted for in previous dairy cattle genetic evaluations. This new trait developed by Janice Wright and Paul VanRaden of the Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory of USDA predicts the cow’s ability to remain alive in the herd. Similar to PL, which measures how long a cow stays in a herd, LIV differentiates between culling and dying.

Why is this difference important? “Populating U.S. dairy herds with cows capable of longer productive life gives producers more opportunity for voluntary culling,” states Duane Norman, CDCB technical advisor and industry liaison. “When a cow is sold for dairy or beef (voluntary or involuntary culling), the sale income is returned to the owner. In contrast, if a cow dies or is euthanized, the cow provides no income.”

According to “Reasons that cows in Dairy Herd Improvement programs exit the milking herd” (Norman et al., 2016), death claims 20% of U.S. cows while in the milking herd.  Conversely, 80 percent of cows remain alive — permitting producers to recoup disposal income when cows exit the herd. The lost disposal income from current U.S. cows that die is valued at about $2.2 billion (20% × 9.2 U.S. million cows x $1,200/cow) or $800 million annually.

Despite mortality’s low heritability of 1.3 percent, LIV carries high accuracy – thanks to decades of recording termination codes via Dairy Herd Information (DHI) records (more than 92 million lactation records for 32 million cows). This accuracy translates to high reliability — even for young, genomic-tested bulls, which average 56 percent reliability.  Cow Livability is defined such that if the cow died this lactation, the trait is set to 0 percent; if the cow lived through this lactation, it is set to 100 percent. LIV values range from approximately -5 to +5. To place it on a lifetime scale, the results are multiplied by 2.8, since the average number of lactations per cow is 2.8.

A bull with an evaluation for Cow Livability of +2.1 will sire 82.1 percent of his daughters that will remain alive, whereas a bull that is -0.5 will have 79.5 percent of his daughters that will remain alive. To put this into perspective, this 2.6 percent difference in a 400-cow dairy herd, with cull cows valued at $1,200, would produce $12,480 in additional income.

In the future, LIV will be incorporated into all four lifetime merit indexes. After incorporation, the weight given to PL is expected to decline from about 19 to 14 percent, and the emphasis assigned to LIV will be near 7 percent. The total emphasis of LIV will increase to 21 percent. 

“Having Cow Livability is one more step toward adding value to the genetic information that will improve dairy producers’ profitability,” says Paul VanRaden. “Producers participating in DHIA can help to improve the reliability of this trait by accurately reporting the reasons why cows leave their herds.”

CDCB conducts genetic evaluations for economically important traits of dairy cattle. The CDCB allied partners’ cooperator database is the largest in the world, which is devoted to dairy animals, with approximately 1.4 million genotypes, 70 million female phenotypic records and more than 300,000 males receiving genetic evaluations or genomic predictions.

Source: Wisconsin State Farmer


Land O’Lakes certifies automatic calf feeder experts

Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Co., has invested in automatic calf feeding certification and training programs to equip its sales and service personnel with the latest information and skills to advise clients using automatic calf feeders.  “As more dairies embrace automatic calf feeders, our staff will be prepared to assist them in developing and managing a successful system and nutrition program,” says Tom Earleywine, Ph.D., director of nutritional services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products Company. “Integrating an automatic calf feeder into your calf program requires a systematic approach and a higher level of management, as well as proper consideration and planning.”

Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products, who has almost 10 years of research with automatic calf feeders, developed a training program with German-based Förster-Technik, a manufacturer of automatic calf feeders. The certification and training covers programming, operating and maintaining automatic calf feeder systems, as well as managing the nutrition systems to do what is best for calves.

“Because automatic calf feeders provide round-the-clock access to liquid nutrients, they closely mimic the feeding patterns of calves nursing their dams. This ready supply of nutrients also helps promote full potential feeding — delivering at least 2.5 pounds of milk solids in 8 to 12 liters of water per day,” notes Earleywine. “A growing body of research shows full potential feeding of pre-weaned calves leads to better feed efficiency, lower age at first calving and higher first-lactation milk production as animals mature.”

A cornerstone of Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products training efforts is the certification of both Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products national account managers and Purina Animal Nutrition’s regional calf and heifer specialists. These professionals are available throughout the United States. You can find a new interactive map to contact your local representative by visiting www

For additional information on Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products or how to feed your calves to their fullest potential, visit Facebook or You Tube (WeCareforCalves) or call 800-618-6455.