Unique cows with unique feed requirements

You only need to take one look at a Channel Island cow or taste some of their uniquely creamy milk to know that they are a very different animal compared to their black-and- white, Holstein Friesen counterparts. As hardy, low maintenance and highly productive animals, the Channel Island breeds prove a hit in an industry where improving forage utilisation and efficiency are key to long-term, sustainable business success.

Dairy Nutrition
Channel island cows 1 - ForFarmers UK

But just as their size and traits are different to other dairy breeds, so too are their nutritional requirements. Understanding these requirements and adapting feeding strategies is therefore key to maximising the performance of Channel Island breeds.

“Guernsey and Jersey cows might be smaller, but if they are managed correctly can produce similar kilograms of milk solids compared to their black-and-white counterparts,” explains ForFarmers Dairy Specialist, Matthew Jenkin. “Channel Island cows also eat more forage as a percentage of their bodyweight and can graze outdoors for extended periods of time. So, for farmers looking to produce more high-quality milk from homegrown grass and forage, Channel Island breeds are great animals to have in their herd.

“The important things to remember when feeding these cows is that they have big appetites relative to their size, they require energy dense diets and like a mix of forages. Good nutrition is key to getting the most out of Channel Island breeds, and if farmers get it right, the rewards are milk that contains up to 50% more butterfat and protein compared to a conventional, black-and-white cow.”

Diet composition

While Channel Island breeds are fantastic grazers, it’s important to remember that their feed requirements go well beyond a reliance on a single forage source and that energy dense diets will help unlock a cow’s true potential.

“With reputations for yielding high volumes of protein and butterfat, it’s no wonder that the cows require very energy rich diets to fuel this performance,” continues Matthew. “Channel Island breeds are more energy hungry compared to other types of dairy cows and require around 6.5 MJ/litre of milk produced, compared to the 5.2 – 5.3 MJ required by Holstein-Friesians.

“But they also like to eat high volumes of feed. So, to get the balance right it’s best to feed a mix of different forages so that cows are provided with both the energy and volume of dry matter required to keep them satisfied. Alongside grazed grass or grass silage, look to include crops like fodder beet, wholecrop, and maize to drive performance.”

Channel Island breeds also require high quality forms of rumen degradable and undegradable protein in their diets, such as rape, soya or sunflowers.

“Another point to be aware of is that these breed are susceptible to gaining weight quickly, so it’s important to keep an eye on the overall starch levels within a diet,” explains Matthew. “Any excess bodyweight gained during lactation is dangerous, as it can lead to ketosis and milk fever - conditions that Channel Island breeds are already predisposed to compared to other types of dairy cattle. As such, I would recommend that farmers consider using a calcium capture product or feed a DCAB diet during the dry period.”

With a high sensitivity to acid loading, rumen buffers and live yeast can also provide a useful safeguard to help maintain optimal rumen pH and avoid any performance-impairing cases of acidosis.

Channel island cows 3

Supporting sustainability

With market signals indicating a declining milk price, many producers will be looking to cut purchased feed bills and maximise milk from forage.

“The Channel Island breeds really do fit the bill for farmers looking to get more from grazed grass,” says Matthew. “Their hardy nature and hard footedness mean that in many situations they can stay outdoors until around November and hope to be outdoors again in February. And their wide muzzles make them excellent grazers, capable of consuming high volumes of grazed grass.

“But it’s important grass is measured and assessed regularly to ensure that it’s providing the energy that grazing stock require, and it’s also recommended to keep on buffer feeding animals throughout the summer to help maintain strong intakes and productivity. The breeds have the potential to be extremely effective at converting grazed grass into milk solids, but only when the correct foundations are in place.”

And in an industry dominated by the all-too familiar black and white Holstein-Friesian breed, it’s also reassuring to know that specific nutritional support and specialist products are available for farmers who are looking to fine-tune the feeding of their Guernsey cows.

“ForFarmers has a range of products that can be offered in alternative formats that best suit Channel Island breeds,” concludes Matthew. “Our specialist Optifeed rationing system can also be calibrated to meet the breeds unique requirements and we have a range of specialists on hand, with years of experience in managing the nutrition for Guernsey and Jersey cows.

“While the Channel Island cows might be small in stature, we know that with the right nutritional support in place they can compete with their bigger, more numerous, black-and-white counterparts.”

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