How buffer feeding helped these Irish farmers control costs and maximise herd performance

How buffer feeding helped these Irish farmers control costs and maximise herd performance

Buffer feeding

In recent weeks, farmers have again been prompted to look for ways of controlling the variables which influence the cost of producing milk on their farm. They also need to focus on milk solids and optimise fertility at this time.

Waterford-based Specialist Nutrition Animal Feed has seen a rise in enquiries in recent weeks from farmers looking to understand how they can reduce their exposure to fluctuating grass resources and milk prices with buffer feeding and Eornagold.

Specialist Nutrition Mixing moist feeds TMR

Strategies to bridge the gap

Buffer feeding allows the farmer to complement the available grass resource to meet the cow’s nutritional requirements throughout the year while keeping the cow’s diet balanced, so that rumen function is at its optimum performance.

“We aim to bridge the nutritional gap with a cost-effective, well-balanced feed,” says Specialist Nutrition ruminant nutritionist, Rachel McCarthy.

“Simply adding silage and availing of more parlour compound might suffice, but it will not help optimum performance at the best value for cows. It is important to be aware of the limitations of high forage diets.

“For example, if a cow is milking 28l, her intake is c.21kg Dry Matter (DM). At grass in April, she will intake c.16kg DM leaving a shortfall of 5kg DM. Our objective is to fill this gap.”

"For those farmers buffer feeding now alongside grazing, it is about adding slow-digesting fibres and starches to complement lush grass and provide extra energy to the cow in the run-up to breeding and the onset of peak milk.

“At the moment, the buffer diet should include ingredients such as soya hulls, beet pulp, barley, maize meal, beet, moist feeds and home reserved forages,” says Rachel.

“The ability to buffer feed can make up the shortfall in overall DM intake targets to perform consistently, achieving good milk quality and production.

“Using only compound feed to buffer feed cows is not only costly but depending on the formulation, can result in overfeeding of expensive minerals, which also adds to the danger of acidosis and creates a further imbalance to the cow’s diet.

“The cost of protein such as soybean meal and the various dried distiller products have risen by 30pc in recent times.

“This is why a product like Eornagold is a great value alternative to reduce the cost of protein in the diet.

“Eornagold moist feed can be fed fresh or pitted and used as part of a buffer diet. It provides increased palatability in the animals’ diet, which helps to minimise sorting, particularly when we are trying to feed fibrous ingredients, such as straw, to protect butterfats.

“It is an especially good option for pitting and can save you a lot of money when your requirement for protein increases next autumn.”

Maintaining butterfat levels during the grazing season is one of the main challenges facing milk producers at this time of the year. It is a particular issue for spring calving herds, where cows are also hitting peak yield and need to retain sufficient condition for good fertility.

“It is worth considering adding protected fats such as GoldenFlake to your buffer diet. This is an energy-dense feed which is used to drive milk yield, support butterfat levels, and improve body condition, which in turn, can boost herd fertility.”

Rachel also highlights the value of using a good quality, slow-release rumen conditioner like AcidBuf to reduce the risk acidosis, which can quickly develop on lush grass and affects butterfat content.

“We have had excellent results adding products such as Acidbuf or metabolically active yeast, such as Vistacell to ensure the highest delivery of live yeast to the rumen to maximise performance and reduce the risk of SARA.

“Both act to reduce the rate and extent of any rumen pH drop, and so minimise the negative impact on rumen fermentation.”

Pedigree Holstein farmer John Shanahan with Specialist Nutritions Rachel Mc Carthy who specialises in Moist Feed options

John Shanahan's story

When John Shanahan, from Ballintotis, Midleton, Co Cork started using Eornagold he saw an immediate change in his milk yields as well as an increase in daily intakes, improved fertility, and a reduction in workload.

John farms 100 pedigree Holstein cows on a 60-acre grazing platform with his wife Anne and son Jack.

“Over time this change has solidified into an increase of three litres per head per day over the last couple of years,” says John.

“Because Eornagold is a moist feed, it makes the overall substrate of the mix wetter, thus increasing consumption. It is also highly palatable, and the cows just love it.

“Milk solids have gone from 548kg to 588kg and milk volume improved from 7605L to 8679L,” John adds.

“In previous years, we fed a mix of maize silage, fodder beet and grass silage along with a high protein blend to balance the diet, but there was a lot of work involved in handling and feeding the beet.

“Eornagold was recommended to me by a neighbour, and once I saw how easy it was to store and incorporate into the feed mix, I was converted. I also found that it offered a more cost-effective way of incorporating protein in the diet.”

John has also noticed improvements in fertility.

“Before I started using Eornagold, we had an empty rate of 20pc in the herd, but now that’s down to 14pc.

“I think the extra protein and energy that it provides post-calving is vital to the cow. It plays a major part in meeting the increasing energy demands of the cow following the onset of lactation and ensures she will be back in calf quickly,” he said.

You can find out more about John's experience here.

Moist Feed Delivered Fresh

Managing fertility issues

Michael Cleary, Ruminant Nutritionist with Specialist Nutrition sees buffer feeding as vital to keeping a cow in good condition before breeding.

“As the cow is achieving her maximum liquid yield, and the farmer prepares her for breeding, it is important that she is not only performing well regarding milk and solid production, but she also needs to be energy neutral to go in-calf and maintain an embryo,” says Michael.

“Any level of inconsistent feeding where overall DM intakes are not achieved can cause fertility issues such as when a cow under stress decides to abandon the embryo to her next cycle, upsetting the operational milking process.

“Providing the correct energy level, rather than a negative energy requirement, is vital to maintaining a new embryo in a cow. Feeding too much protein will drive liquid production, and the cow will use her fat supplies to try and balance milk quality with her level of production.

“She may lose body condition and suffer clinical disorders such as ketosis if the diet is not balanced.”

Feeding the correct buffer to balance high protein lush spring grass is very important not only for milk production but to preserve the fertility of the herd.

Managing high stocking rate

Farmers who are highly stocked have seen the benefits of year-round feeding. Buffer feeding can also be a more cost-effective option for a farmer who is overstocked compared to the prospect of renting land.

“It is definitely worth weighing up if you are relying on expensive rented land,” said Michael.

Nicholas Molloy's story

Another farmer who has collaborated with Specialist Nutrition is Tullamore man, Nicholas Molloy, who was prompted by the drought conditions of the summer of 2018 to investigate the benefits of buffering.

“In early June, grass growth started to dip," he says. "We decided that buffer feeding was an option for us."

Working with Nicholas, Specialist Nutrition ruminant nutritionist Nigel Condell analysed the available forages, used Creidextra Moist Feed as a high-value protein and energy source, and formulated a diet.

“Even though the drought stayed with us for quite some while, I was very happy with my cows' performance. It worked out well for me. We maintained the milk quality, despite the severe lack of grass available on the farm.

“Using Creidextra as an alternative feed played a part when we were faced with limited grazing, and milk solids improved for me.

“I’m heavily stocked here. My grazing platform is not sufficient to sustain my milking herd.

“We use buffer feeding with Creidextra all the time now, and it helps to balance intakes. Not only does it help my cow performance but also helps to manage body condition scores for fertility.

“Nigel understands my farm system and what I am looking to achieve. I have ongoing support from Nigel, and I trust him to help me manage the cost of my inputs and maximise herd performance, whether in early spring or late lactation.”

Established in 1999 and part of the Arvum Group, Specialist Nutrition supplies a comprehensive range of high-quality moist and liquid feeds and nutritional advice to progressive dairy, beef, and pig farmers.

If you would like to know more about their range of Moist Feeds and how they can support your farm system, please give them a call on 051 833 071 or call Rachel McCarthy on 087 242 1276 or check out the website.