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Cornerstones of good feeding

Here is our guide to good feeding and the benefits it can bring to your herd and your bottom line.

1. High quality forage

High quality forage will have a great impact on the performance of your dairy herd, from its intake potential through production to profitability.  The aim would be for a stable silage presented correctly and consistently and of the highest attractiveness to the cows. 

Forage is the foundation

Building on a strong foundation

Home grown forage provides a solid foundation on which compound and supplements can be added. Forage that is palatable will not make a cow eat more but an unpalatable one will make her eat significantly less.

Forage should be:

  • Palatable and attractive to cows.
  • Stable – no heating, free from mould, not subject to rapid spoilage, free from soil contamination.
  • Consistent – not over or under mixed and a uniform consistency along the feed fence.

2. Understanding what the cow needs in a day:

We should continuously, consider our cows needs and the signals she gives us to improve and maximise good feeding. Our checklist below is based on the ideal of the cow eating 10 to 14 identical meals per day of 1.5 to 2.0kg DM each lasting about half an hour and it highlights some key areas and why.

  • A cow selects feed with her nose, eyes, tongue and muzzle.
  • Her nose is 80 times more sensitive than a humans.
  • Her tongue contains 2.5 times more taste buds than humans.
  • Trough mix target dry matter = 40-42% > this will minimise sorting.
  • Trough space for an average sized milking Holstein = 70cm/28 inches.
  • Trough space for a large milking Holstein = 80cm/31 inches.
  • Cows eat, drink, lie & walk in groups.
  • A cow will eat at least 3% of her bodyweight in dry matter.
  • In heat can walk 1-1.5 miles/day in a cubicle shed.
  • Trough feed should be available for a minimum of 20-21 hours/day.
    • Monitor by rumen fill in the range 3.5 to 2.5 (full to moderately full).
    • Push up feed 5-6 times per day.
  • She will eat for 14-16 hours per day, chew for 4-6 hours and ruminate for 9-11 hours.
Cows eating

3. Water and water troughs:

Cows must have unrestricted access to good clean water:

  • 10% of the milking group should be able to drink at all times.
  • 300-400 litres of water will pass through the rumen each 24 hours.
  • 50 litres of ‘water’ can be obtained from the feed.
  • Cows will drink 4-5 litres of water per kg of dry matter consumed.
  • In addition cows require 4-5 litres for every 1kg of milk produced.
  • Cows drink 50-60% of their requirement immediately after each milking.
  • Ideal water temperature = 5-15°C
  • She would like 80-120 litres of clean fresh water per day, ideally from a water trough.
    • Allow a minimum of 10cm/cow water trough space.
    • Remember she can drink 15 litres in a minute and will drink 6-14 times per day, so check flow rates.
    • A standard water trough should fill a 10 litre bucket within 40 seconds and a rapid flow drinker should deliver 15-20 litres per minute.
    • Lastly, would you be happy to drink from her water trough?

4. Saliva

Saliva is also an important consideration in the cornerstones of good feeding, as it is the ideal natural buffer for the rumen. 

Cows will produce 200 to 250 litres of saliva per day on a correctly balanced ration which contains sufficient fibre. This saliva will moisten the feed and add to the rumen fluid. It will prevent the rumen pH from dropping too low through the production of 125 meq/litre of bicarbonate per day as well as support the circulation of nitrogen for protein production, along with the circulation of phosphorus and sodium. About half of the saliva production occurs whilst the cow is lying down chewing her cud, which is why a comfy bed is so important.

For more information

For more information on good feeding practices, improving your robotic milking performance or profitability please speak to your local ForFarmers Account Manager or use the link below:

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