Dairy Feed

High Sugar Grasses – Green money?

Whilst developed several decades ago, research into high sugar grasses and their proposed benefits has been continual. But where do they differ from normal grasses? Firstly, their “higher sugar” levels are delivered through greater water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) levels within the grass. These WSC’s are present within the plant’s cells as opposed to the cell walls, where they take longer to be broken down for energy in the rumen. Higher WSC content within the grasses offers a greater amount of readily available energy within the cow’s diet, allowing for more efficient utilisation of dietary proteins in the rumen.

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Consistency = Persistency in cows

Think of the cow as a production unit. Procurement is where the cow consumes the feed which must pass a strict quality control test. The feed is passed on to the manufacturing department - also known as the rumen. The rumen produces the raw materials required for the production of milk. These are then passed on to the packaging and shipping department, also known as the mammary gland. In the mammary gland the glucose, lipids, proteins and minerals are packaged and secreted. As nutritionist, consultants and dairy men, we tend to concentrate our efforts on the rumen and digestive tract. However, no matter how many nutrients are produced in the rumen, if the mammary gland is not able to package them they will be deposited as fat, protein and carbohydrate reserves. This is wasteful, energetically expensive and may affect any subsequent lactation.

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Nutrition: Forget about ingredients, think about the cow!

“Sugar Beet Pulp improves butterfat”, “Feeding over 4kgs of wheat causes acidosis”, “Feeding straw reduces milk yield”

These are some of the many comments that you hear when discussing dairy nutrition, and although these are valid in many situations, these types of comments totally miss out on the potential of modern dairy nutrition. Historically, relying on certain ingredients has always ensured good herd performance with a typically predictable response, but with an ever growing drive for financial efficiency, there is a demand to push the boundaries of dairy nutrition.

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42L cows on a 16% Crude Protein Diet... Are You Sure?

Cows do not have a Crude Protein (CP) requirement, Varga et al (2007). Yet, for many years CP has been used when formulating diets, and this often continues to be the case. Cow’s have a requirement for Amino Acids (AA), not protein, and the supply of the AA is predominantly produced by the cow herself in Microbial Protein (MicP) in the rumen. Together with Rumen Undegradable Protein (RUP) and Endogenous Protein (EP), this makes up the supply of Metabolisable Protein (MP) to the small intestine. Both MP and the component AAs are then absorbed by the small intestine and used for protein synthesis and meeting the needs of the cow for: maintenance, growth, reproduction and lactation.

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Cudding Dairy Cows

Rumination and cudding are essential for efficiency and health. A beautiful example of this is the story of cow named Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918. Interestingly her owner had not realised quite how special a cow she was.

It was only whilst looking through the production data of his 450-cow herd at the start of August did he realise that she was still producing 100kgs daily, eleven months after her 4th calving. Aftershock 3918 ended her 4th lactation with a record of 35,457kg, at 4% fat 3.1% protein. Her lifetime production after 1537 milking days is 100,870 kg, an average of 66kg per day. She is a cow that simply goes about her business; never sick, always back in calf quickly and never requiring special attention. Where she stands out from the herd (apart from her continuously high production levels), is her cudding rates. The herd’s cudding rates are routinely monitored and average around 8 hours per day. Aftershock 3918 was found to chew her cud for an average of 10 hours a day. For me this highlights the importance of cudding and how it influences cow performance. Recent studies by Kaufman et al. (2017) support my view, while others have found no relationship between milk yield and rumination time. However, I am sure that there are a number of factors that determine the extent of rumination time and cudding activity which are related to environment and diet.

Cudding indicates several positive signs of cow health, namely: adequate effective fibre fraction within the diet, correct rumen pH and the absence of acidosis. At herd level, 75-80% of cows that are lying down should be cudding at any one time. Where fewer cows are cudding, it is important to identify the underlying cause. In many cases this will more likely be sub-acute acidosis (SARA). Symptoms of SARA can include: hyper ventilation (rapid breathing), lameness, cows puddling on their feet, scouring, dirty backs (caused by tail swishing), low butterfat and rough coats.

Cud counting can also be a useful tool for assessing the adequacy of effective fibre within a cow’s diet. A cow should chew each cud around 65-75 times. For anything lower than 60, rumen function can be improved through increasing effective fibre levels within the diet. A combination of cudding to stimulate saliva production and correct dietary fibre levels will help lead to the production of 2-2.5kg of essential rumen buffer. This helps to maintain an optimal rumen pH of 6.2-6.8, where microbes are at their most effective and efficient.

With the latest developments in cow monitoring activity. Real time monitoring of rumination and cudding activity is available to all producers and provides an excellent way to monitor health and performance of the diet fed.

In summary, higher cudding rates improve both a cow’s health and performance, and can be achieved through close attention to diet formulations and careful management. The integration of the latest technology in dairy systems can help with this through the monitoring of hourly cudding rates and the flagging up of any issues warranting action.


Martin Hope
Dairy Specialist
You can contact Martin, or find your local Dairy Specialist, by clicking here.

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