Time to take stock and review diets for the winter ahead

Reviewing diets now will help assess how they are performing, enabling farmers to make the most of forages over the rest of winter. British Dairying reports.

With cows now settled onto winter rations and forage stocks confirmed, its a good time to assess both how well diets are performing and what changes might be needed to ensure forage stocks last and contribute as much as possible.

“Cows crave consistency, so the less often and less severely diets are changed, the better for overall performance,” says Georgina Chapman, Nutritionist and Technical Support Manager at ED&F Man.

“So reviewing options earlier will allow smaller changes to be made sooner, rather than more severe changes later in the season.” The key is to ensure the correct balance of energy and protein sources to optimise rumen function and help maximise fibre digestion, says Georgina. The rumen needs both rapidly and slowly fermentable carbohydrates and proteins. “Many farmers are facing the problem this winter of having to base diets on higher neutral detergent fibre

(NDF) grass silages which are more difficult for the rumen microbes to digest, leading to problems with dry matter intakes and cows not milking as expected. In addition, these forages are low in the rapidly fermentable carbohydrates that the rumen requires.”

While it may be tempting to look for alternative, possibly lower-priced carbohydrate sources, it is important to understand how ingredients will perform in the rumen. Products like potato and bakery waste can vary considerably in terms of starch content and degradability, depending on how they have been processed, and may not deliver what the cow needs.

“The key is to provide the appropriate energy sources to stimulate rumen activity without compromising rumen health,” says Georgina.