Strategies of feeding concentrates to dairy cows

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One of the key expense in a dairy farm is feeding the dairy cows. The farmer therefore needs to know what works for the cow, whether the cows are underfeeding or overfeeding, and this poses major challenges to most farmers.

The normal feeding practice for many dairy farmers is to provide a constant amount concentrate throughout the lactation period. The concentrate is restricted on a certain level, usually 2 to 3  kg daily or less, while the roughage is fed either at will or in a mix. The disadvantages of this strategy are the increased risk for
metabolic disturbances and the difficulty to reach high peak yields. However, the technique is simple and therefore the investment cost can be relatively low.

Concentrates in Kenya, as in other parts of the world, are expensive therefore it is important to use them effectively. Inefficient feeding induces risk of metabolic diseases and dropped milk yield which are a sources of monetary losses.

There are two strategies that are recommended for feeding concentrates:

  1. Challenge feeding
  2. Concentrate re-allocation

Challenge Feeding

This method is recommended for cows in early lactation. Start with low levels of dairy meal or suitable dairy concentrates about 4 kg per day and increase this amount by 0.5 to 1 kg per day as long as there is an increase in milk production until the point at which further increase does not result in an increase in milk production. Maintain this amount until the milk production starts dropping then reduce the amount of concentrate gradually. Every cow is given the maximum ration that she can consume, without reducing her roughage intake. By using this strategy each individual cow is given the opportunity to show her production potential.

As a rule of thumb, 1 kg increase in concentrate fed should result in an increase in production of milk of 1.5 to 2 kg. Feeding concentrates is economical only as long as the price of I.5 kg milk is higher than the price of 1 kg concentrate.

The downside of this method is that when the peak production is reached and the production starts to decline, there is a risk of overfeeding. The advantage is that the cow’s body condition is maintained and the feed is used as efficiently as possible. A successful implementation of this strategy means increased milk production with the feed cost well under control.

Concentrate Re-allocation

Experience indicate that increasing levels of concentrates increases milk yield, especially during early lactation.  Research also demonstrate that the level of nutrition during the first weeks of lactation has major effects on total lactation performance. Nutritional interventions can transform lactation curves by the strategic reallocation of fixed yearly quantity of concentrate to the early part of lactation.

Concentrate re-allocation takes place in early lactation, when there is a strong chance of underfeeding. If the cow requires ten bag in a year, concentrate reallocation means feeding all of the ten bags during early lactation and providing just good quality forage for the rest of the lactation. This would amount to about 8 kg concentrates per day for the first 12 weeks of lactation.  If the cow is not already accustomed to concentrates, after calving start off by giving 2 kg and increase gradually over the first week to 8 kg.

Advantage of feed reallocation

  • The cow is able to produce over 20 percent more milk during the whole lactation.
  • The cow remains in good body condition and
  • Is able to come on heat and conceive faster

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