Practical Tips To Improve Feed Efficiency

Published on Wed, 06/19/2019 - 12:05pm

 Practical Tips To Improve Feed Efficiency.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski

 Feed efficiency is one of those things that’s frequently talked about, but not always interpreted the exact same way. Likewise, when asked what one is doing on-farm to increase or maintain a steady feed efficiency rate, how many would be able to give a concrete answer? While this concept can get a little tricky and is very multi-faceted, you may be surprised how much can be influenced through simple daily management.

Remember, nutrition is a cornerstone to milk production. Unfortunately, it is also one that can be easily under or overutilized and poorly managed. In any dairy economy, especially today’s challenging one, feeding is a prime area you want to make the most of with as minimal waste as possible.
The University of Kentucky explains what is theal most numeric scientific definition of feed efficiency. That is the amount of 3.5%-fat corrected milk produced per pound of dry matter consumed. Specifically, the suggested “optimal” range of efficiency as 1.4 to 1.8 pounds of milk per pound of feed, based on Holstein equations. In a broader sense, efficiency can also be considered as using the most of nutrients provided with as minimal wastage as possible. Any time feed is thrown out or is poorly converted within the cow, that is an inefficiency.

Feed Intake
One of the biggest measures you can take to enhance efficiency is to improve and monitor feed intake. And yes, there are measures you can take to get your cows to the feedbunk more and wasting less.
Once an early lactation cow consumes enough to support her maintenance requirements, every pound of dry matter thereafter can approximately support approximately two pounds of milk production on average. Regardless of how great your ration is, a cow can only get her required nutrients according to how much she consumes. Fresh cows and first-calf heifers are the most susceptible to low feed intake and are the most negatively impacted by it.
High producing cows require more dry matter intake (DMI) for both their maintenance and production. It is estimated a high producing Holstein requires 4.0% of her bodyweight in dry matter each day. For a low producing animal, the requirement is only 3.0%.  

Forage quality plays a role in efficiency, and not just in terms of wastage and DMI. As the percentage of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) increases, feed efficiency tends to go down. Feed additives including buffers, ionophores, yeast, microbials and others have shown to have some positive effects on efficiency. These increases may not be massive, but in a production-based herd the little gains on individual heads will have a combined impact on the tank.
And finally, consider the rations your providing to each specific group. Having specific diets formulated for closer-up and fresh cows to account for their nutritional needs is important. This way every bite they consume meets the requirements for their current stage in lactation. Likewise, your dry cows don’t need high-value feeds.

The Role of Management
Environmental factors are a prime cause of reduced intake. Heat stress begins as low as 70°F, and can increase substantially based on the humidity index. Whenever there is any heat stress, feed intake begins going down. Having sprinklers and fans adequately spaced around the barns, especially directly at the feedbunk, helps greatly.
Inadequate bunk space will prevent weaker cows from eating as much as they should. The general recommendation is to provide at least 24-30 inches per cow, but in special groups (fresh, pre-fresh and hospital pens), 36 inches is optimal.
How your TMR is mixed can also have an impact on what your cows will eat. Improper particle sizes and poor mixing can lead to sorting and wastage. These can also lead to efficiency-inhibiting health issues such as acidosis. Likewise, lower quality forages with less palatability will discourage animals from returning to eat as regularly. TMR with a moisture content too high not only runs the risk of spoilage, it is also capable of reducing intake. The general recommendation is to keep TMR between 48% through 52%.
And of course, your animals can only eat as much as is offered to them. It is generally recommended access to feed be about 22 hours a day (accounting for approximately two hours spent in the holding pens and milking). To reduce refusals, increasing feed push-ups can help. As the feed is pushed out further away from the bunk it requires more work for a cow to eat when she’s hungry. As a result, she will tend to lie down and give up. Feed that is scattered has a larger surface area that allows for the outside oxygen to contaminate the forage. If left out for too long, cows may be less likely to eat as much even once it is pushed up. One recommendation to monitor efficient use of feed is that no more than 3-5% of refusal be left at the end of each feeding.
There is a lot of room for efficiency variance in individual animals and within breeds. Note that most of the efficiency equations are based on Holstein-specific research, likewise the dry-matter intake and nutritional requirements also vary. The value of a nutritionist who knows your personal goals, feed resources and specific herd is another important asset in the pursuit of optimal feed efficiency.