Feeding the High Producing Cow Isn’t in Your Daddy’s Shaker Box Anymore

April 7, 2015

What is the management and nutrition necessary to average 100 lbs of milk per cow per day?

In 1989, a dairy producer asked where his herd production should be in 2010 in order to have a sustainable dairy operation that could be passed on to his children. I told him that his goal should be a RHA of 25,000 pounds with a 3.6% fat test and a 3.1 protein test. I truly under estimated how our dairy industry would change. Consider this recent challenge from a dairy producer to me “I want 100 pounds of milk per cow/day with a 3.6% fat test and a 3.2% protein test.” He wants a herd average of 36,500 pounds per cow and cows that produce 3.6 and 3.2 pounds of fat and protein each day. You can’t reach those production goals by feeding your daddy’s cow. To obtain a herd average of 100 pounds per cow/day, peak milk for mature cows needs to be 130 pounds or greater. Peak milk for 1st lactation cows needs to be 104 pounds. Cows don’t violate the laws of thermodynamics. If you want them to produce 130 pounds of milk, then they must consume enough energy and protein for 130 pounds of milk. This will require a dry matter intake of 65 to 68 pounds per day. For the entire herd to average 100 pounds of milk per day, the dry matter intake must be 55 – 58 pounds. These dry matter intakes don’t happen unless you have good cow comfort, plenty of feed bunk space, put up highly digestible forages and have plenty of access to good water.

Two nutrients can limit dry matter intake. They are undigested fiber and too much starch. Undigested fiber contributes to rumen fill. Too much rumen fill will limit intake. We now have a way to estimate the undigested fiber content of forages. It is called uNDF as a percent of diet DM. You can request this test on a forage analysis. The higher the uNDF value, the greater the rumen fill of a forage. If you want cows to consume 65 pounds of dry matter you are going to have to allocate forages based on their uNDF content. Highly digestible forages will have a low uNDF content. The goal is to have cows consume 5 to 5.5 pounds of uNDF daily. Consuming higher amounts of uNDF may limit feed intake. High starch diets will limit dry matter intake by depressing fiber digestion and producing too much propionic acid. There is a negative relationship between fiber digestion and starch content of the diet. Dry matter intake is maximized, when feeding moderate starch levels (22 – 26%) with high sugar levels (6 – 8%).  Feeding trials at the USDA dairy forage research station in Madison, WI, reported optimal fiber digestion when the diet contained 7.2% total sugar. Starch plus sugar content should be 29 – 33% to optimize feed intake.

Feeding molasses based liquid supplements, customized to your operation, that can include vitamins, minerals, protein, etc.has been shown to stimulate dry matter intake in diets containing 50% or more forage. In an 11 trail summary the average increase in dry matter intake was 2.42 pounds compared to diets without liquid supplements. Molasses improves the palatability of the diet but it also helps to reduce sorting. The reduction in sorting of the diet will lead to a healthier rumen environment for digestion. The increase in dry matter intake will lead to higher peak milk production and greater persistency in the first 160 DIM. You need high dry matter intakes to get high milk production. Combining the concept of uNDF and moderate starch diets with the feeding of molasses-based liquid supplements, will make higher DM intake possible.

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