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Plan - Implement - Monitor - Evaluate

 How to match objectives for your herd when planning rations

Match Objectives for Your Herd When Planning Rations

Feeding for now, planning for the future

Over recent months, milk price has dominated most conversations. Through this winter feed price volatility, silage quality and the introduction of the Basic Payment Scheme have also added uncertainty to the dairy sector. However, despite all of these issues, the cow remains largely unchanged although the genetics of many herds have evolved over several generations. The cow’s physiological, metabolic and nutritional requirements, specifically in early lactation, are relatively constant. Whilst costs need careful evaluation, it is vital that the cost structure is understood and that output and longer term production potential is not compromised.


Establishing clear objectives is vital when constructing rations, but be careful to not set too many objectives, just one, possibly two, that can be realistically achieved. Such objectives might simply be from…

  • More yield
  • Better quality
  • Less cost
  • Increased forage utilisation
  • Reduced workload (simplicity)


Feed is a variable cost and care is needed in drastically reducing feed rates, particularly in early lactation, as not only will output be compromised but reduced fertility will have consequences later in the year when hopefully farm gate prices may have improved. Reducing feed rates needs careful thought this year especially as forage may have less capacity to support production. 


When thinking about feed rates, careful consideration needs to be given to stage of lactation. Freshly calved cows underfed now will not peak as well, will have less potential to exploit spring grazing and the potential of the whole lactation will be compromised. 


It has never been more important that the efficiency of feed utilisation is optimised, some key areas include the following:

  • Adequate feed space and cubicles for early lactation cows
  • Consistent, fresh feed presentation
  • Regular ‘pushing up’ of TMR
  • Correct calibration of concentrate feeders
  • Ensuring regular reallocation of feed rates
  • Freshly calved cows supported, with appropriate ‘lead feeding’
  • Staler, later lactation cows challenged to utilise more from forage


Lead feed feeding, especially in predominantly TMR fed herds, very much depends on the structure of the group, i.e. how many days in milk, all year round or block calving. The degree of lead feeding might well change through the year. Similarly, ration construction needs to be considered with respect to grouping dynamics – the requirements of freshly calved cows are very different to cows in later lactation and accurate rationing to supply correct levels of metabolisable protein across the herd will promote healthy cows and cost effective production.


As TMR / PMR based systems inevitably under or over feed some cows in the group, some farms are currently considering larger groups fed less via the mixer wagon but with a greater emphasis on parlour / out of parlour feeders to target greater feed accuracy and reduce cost.


With the current milk price, it is also worth considering the cost and benefits of ration components. For example, is the correct mineral being fed at the correct rate – when was the last time the mineral profile was addressed? (see page 5). Other products such as protected fats and proteins, yeasts and buffers all have a proven nutritional basis (based on considerable research and on farm experience), but are the correct products being utilised to address the main objectives on your dairy unit? 


As this year progresses, it is also crucial to monitor performance, assess what impact changes have made and if objectives are at least heading in the right direction. 


Plan – Implement 

Monitor – Evaluate


Finally, ensuring good communication of plans and objectives, both with farm staff, but also with your nutritionist, vet and forage specialist, will ensure everyone is working together towards clear goals and importantly, appreciate the impact of the milk price and the rationale of decision making.


Contact your nutritionist or Farm Sales Specialist for advice or call the FeedLine on 01278 444829


Source Details

Dr Robin Hawkey, Newsletter 609


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