Challenges Coming into Winter 2018/2019

Mark Gorst, Ruminant Nutritionist at Advanced Nutrition discusses winter challenges for the dairy industry

Challenges Coming into Winter 2018/2019

2018 has been an interesting year for the dairy sector. Spring saw an opportunity for early cropping of grass, followed by the drought period which challenged not just the growth of grass, but also stressed the cereal and maize crops. The later summer rain was a benefit for some, with an abundance of grass in mid to late August. For other areas the prolonged dry period added further complications to the quality and quantity of forage that has been grown and subsequently harvested.  

Forage has not been the only challenge this summer, heat stress has also been an issue and has knock on effects coming into winter.

What are the feeding challenges we face this winter?

The key component in all dairy diets is forage. As I have already eluded quality and quantity across all forage types has been a challenge this summer.  A consistent quality source of grass silage is an essential part to any base diet I would put together. 

Dry and lower energy second and some third cut grass silages have put a spoke in the wheel in achieving a high ME forage base for the diets.

A second forage has been a benefit to some farms.  Maize was early this year and crop quantities in most areas have been reasonable, this additional forage, in some cases has helped bring the energy density of the diet to an acceptable level to encourage an increase in milk.

Due to the drought this summer, as you know, feed raw material prices have increased significantly, coupled with a shortage of lower energy forage some farm blends may have seen an increased level of higher energy products to assist in making up the energy shortfall.  The oil levels of these type of products need to be taken into account, if this type of raw material is added at a much higher rate than normal this may impact on milk quality by depressing the fat level.

Feed Challenges this Winter

  • Forage – quality and quantity
  • Raw materials – ensuring +ve impact on yields
  • Managing the energy density of the diet

There are other challenges that we come across that can affect the performance of a milking herd this winter.  The weather has, and in some areas, is still acceptable for cows to outside.

Leaving cows at grass too long can have a negative impact on performance. Lower energy grass results in less overall energy being consumed, this results in less milk being produced and in some cases body condition loss. 

Dry Cows are often forgotten especially in late summer. When they calve they’re expected to get on and produce the milk, as well as get back in calf. I think it is worth investing in this group as they provide the cornerstone of the winter milking herd, if managed correctly they will give the reward throughout the winter months.

Lameness – Simply if a cow is struggling to walk effectively there will be no motivation for her to make to the trough to feed, reduced intake means less yield and possible a deterioration in her body condition. I’d suggest reviewing the foot trimming and foot bathing policy to reduce lameness incidence across the herd.

Shed Design– Housing for the herd is important, cows respond to having enough air, water and light. A lower than acceptable feed rail has an impact on intake and therefore performance.

We have to remember that each farm and herd is unique, they all have their own bottlenecks, some are easily resolved, others require compromising to manage them. The points I have highlighted are only a few that will have an effect on herd performance this winter. 

If you would like your herd reviewing please get in touch our aim at Advanced Nutrition is to optimise the performance of the herds we work.


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