Cattle feeding

Watch herd closely

High milk yield can only be achieved if the feeding management is right.
High milk yield can only be achieved if the feeding management is right.

High feed costs are a concern for farmers in Europe. However, reducing the proportion of concentrated feed too much also has disadvantages. Dairy experts warn against "panic reactions". In a worldwide initiative, companies are making a long-term commitment to regenerative agriculture and sustainable and efficient animal husbandry.

In conventional dairy farming, the key is high milk yield and longevity of the animals, explains Thomas Engelhard, head of the Dairy Cattle Husbandry and Breeding Department at the Saxony-Anhalt State Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture, during the recent Corteva Agriscience Mediaclub on the topic "The challenge of feed for cattle: quality factors in the cycle from cultivation to feeding management". Feeding is central to this, he said. High feed intake, good quality and, above all, analytics are the basis, he said. "Nothing works without analytics," Engelhard is convinced.

In addition to variety selection, harvest timing and chopper setting, ensiling the corn for feed preservation is also crucial, adds Jürgen Koch, Sales Development Manager, Corteva Agriscience. "Silage control is important, and laboratory analyses ensure quality." Corteva performs about 40,000 analyses a year around corn as part of its Silage Expert system.

Testing limits by observing

"Intensive controlling and monitoring of the animals is also important," Engelhard emphasizes. With a view to good feed intake, according to the expert's experience, the administration of high-quality coarse feed and concentrated feed with a proportion of up to 40% has proven successful.

In view of the current high feed costs, Engelhard says it is important to use concentrates effectively. He said it's a matter of reducing the amount of residual feed and not overfeeding older cows. He warned against "panic reactions." If concentrate rations were reduced too much, animals would become sick and more milk yield would be lost than would be saved by feed. Rather, the herd, its health and milk yield should be closely monitored to see "what works and where the limit is."

Many years of expertise

On the agricultural farm of the Center for Animal Husbandry and Technology (ZTT) in Iden, 400 dairy cows + female offspring are kept. The reference and training farm manages 1,200 ha of agricultural land, including 900 ha of arable land, 300 ha of grassland, 150 ha of maize (silage and wet grain maize), 50 ha each of lucerne and arable grass. The main focus of the feeding trials is to ensure metabolic stability of the high-yielding cow in the period close to parturition (dry standing, preparation, fresh milking), supply of structural and easily digestible carbohydrates, improvement of crude protein and N efficiency of dairy cow rations and feeding of native protein feeds in GMO-free rations (rapeseed extraction meal, also treated, grain legumes, DDGS).

In addition, the feeding characteristics of forages such as combinations of alfalfa silage/hay, stillage, brewer's grains and pressed pulp, or grain and wet grain corn will also be tested. The aim is to maintain the health, fertility and performance of the animals with a view to ruminant-friendly feeding, energy supply in line with requirements and the highest possible feed intakes.

Initiative for greater sustainability and efficiency

However, it is not only farmers who have efficient and sustainable milk production in mind, but also companies that depend on high and reliable milk quality. For example, Danone, which is supplied by around 50,000 farms, launched a global initiative called "Farming for generations" in 019. The aim is to accelerate the move toward regenerative agriculture by 2030 and improve farm performance for people and animals. In doing so, Danone and its partners are taking a holistic approach, looking at feeding, genetics through to cultivation, variety selection and silage technology, explains Cees Jan Hollander, Global Farming Expertise Manager at Danone.

In the alliance, farms of all sizes in the U.S., Europe and, so far, Russia are being tested to see which adjusting screws can still be optimized. In Europe, according to Hollander, plants in Germany, Spain, France and the Netherlands are the main participants. The focus varies in the individual regions. In Spain, the focus is on corn silage, in France it is on more grazing and corn cultivation, in Germany on herd management and milk quality, and in the USA the focus is on genetics. The exchange of experience between farms is central to this, Hollander says, "learning from each other is the goal." Partner companies in the alliance are Corteva, Yara, DSM, MSD, Connecterra, FutureCow and Neogen.