Feeding Jersey cows successfully

Small but mighty, Jerseys are efficient producers of milk full of protein and fats, perfect for converting into a wide range of premium dairy products. With just one taste of creamy Jersey milk, it’s obvious that the animal who produced it is not just any old dairy cow, and when it comes to nutrition and management, she shouldn’t be fed like one either.

Dairy Nutrition
Feed passage Jersey cows

Due to their smaller size and other characteristics, they do not consume feed and forage the same as other dairy breeds. They eat more forage as a percentage of their bodyweight and are remarkably more efficient at converting it into milk solids.

ForFarmers Business Manager and Jersey nutrition expert Peter Cade explains the nutritional needs of the breed and how farmers can get the best from their herds.

Nutritional requirements

“It is essential that farmers and nutritionists respect the fact that these animals are not the same as their black and white counterparts and have unique needs,” Peter says. “Today’s Jersey is also physically different from her predecessors, weighing 475-500kg on average, compared to the average liveweight of 425-450kg from 20 years ago, meaning intakes are higher too.

“When it comes to feeding these cows, the most important thing to remember is that they have relatively big appetites and high energy needs.

Good nutrition is key in order to achieve the high fertility and milk solids that they are famous for, so it is essential that they are fed a properly-balanced diet 365 days a year regardless of stage of lactation,” he stresses.

Top tips for feeding Jersey cows

There are a few specific points of difference regarding Jersey nutrition to keep in mind when formulating diets that can take cow performance to the next level.

  • A mixture of forages
    “Jerseys like a mix of forages and need a range of ingredients like wholecrop, fodder beet and maize included in their rations to unlock performance and efficiency,” says Peter. “Single forage crop diets don’t appear to work as well for them, so it’s essential to feed them even during summer grazing to drive intakes. One herd I currently work with is fed a mix of maize, grass, lucerne silage, and fodder beet, with an average yield of 28L/day – a great example of this successfully working on farm.
  • Snack little and often
    “They are ‘snackers’ as opposed to gorgers like black and white cows and like to eat smaller meals throughout the day, so it’s critical that whatever forage they have is readily available to them at all times.”
  • Energy and protein
    Jerseys are more ‘energy hungry’ than other types of dairy cattle and require 6.5 MJ/litre of milk produced, compared to 5.3 MJ/L needed by Holstein-Friesians, but they don’t respond to higher levels of protein in the same way. They need good quality forms of rumen degradable and undegradable protein from sources like sunflower, rape or soya. ForFarmers offer several products in a version with higher levels of undegradable protein, such as Rapeplus, which are ideally suited to Jersey diets.
  • Watch their starch levels
    One thing that anyone feeding a Jersey herd needs to be mindful of is starch levels in their diet. “Jerseys can gain weight quickly, and excess body condition gained during lactation can lead to ketosis and milk fever, which they are more susceptible to than other breeds,” adds Peter.
  • Low DCAB diets
    “Jersey's should be fed low DCAB diets during the dry period. ForFarmers TRANSLAC Advance dry cow nut has revolutionised feeding dry Jersey cows, in my opinion. It’s essentially eliminated ketosis in our herds and contains a key product called Calcium Capture, which prevents milk fever by binding to free calcium, sodium and potassium.”
  • Copper toxicity
    Another trace element that needs to be monitored closely is copper, as Jerseys are very intolerant to it. They appear to store more of it in their livers than a typical cow, making them susceptible to copper toxicity. As a result, it should be included at minimum levels, and farmers should not be tempted to add more to the diets without careful checks.
  • Maintain rumen pH
    As with all ruminants, good rumen function is also key to milk performance, but Jersey cows are especially sensitive to abnormally high acid loading.
    “Jerseys really sulk and can go off their feed when they develop even minor cases of acidosis,” Peter explains. “Because of this we need to avoid it at all costs and have to get rumen pH right, which has been especially challenging this winter due to silages made last year with low pH and high acid loads.”
    Including live yeasts and buffers in the diet can help manage rumen function, maintain intakes and prevent any problems surfacing. Both Levucell, a rumen specific live yeast, and RumiBuff, a mix of natural marine algae and natural antioxidants, benefit rumen health by supporting the growth of rumen microbes, stabilising pH and reducing acid loading. In doing so, they also improve fibre digestion and milk quality and yield.

To support farmers looking to optimise nutrition for their Jersey herds, ForFarmers offer a wide range of products and specialist staff to help meet the nutritional needs of the breed.

“We gained a lot of knowledge about Jersey nutrition by sponsoring ‘Project Charlotte’ alongside the Jersey Milk Marketing Board and several UK farmers several years ago,” Peter says. “It was a really important project in helping the industry understand how unique these cows are and taught us so much about their eating habits and how they convert energy.”

Many of ForFarmers products and ingredients are offered in alternative formats best suited to Jerseys, including their ‘Match’ line of cakes, which help to buffer feeds, preventing acid building and ensuring correct rumen pH.

This winter, the company also launched Optifeed, a ruminant rationing programme that provides feed advice for heifers, second calvers and older cows across all stages of lactation. Also calibrated for Jerseys and their requirements, it tests the farm’s silage using NIR as a starting point, and then builds customised diet formulas to maximise feed efficiency and optimise performance.

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