Focus on the fundamentals
The dairy industry is constantly being bombarded with new product solutions to its problems. “Try this product and it will give you a two litre lift”, “try this product and it will increase your butterfat level”, “try this product and it will make your cows more fertile” and so on. Unfortunately, however, the silver bullet is just not out there (or not that I have yet found anyway!). As with all these things, a nutritional solution is only as good as the management on farm. If the cows are without water or feed, are chronically lame or massively overstocked any amount of a ‘new’ product will not solve the issues for these cows.
What determines why you buy a specific product for your animals? Here are just some of the reasons I have been given whilst on farm:
- Return on investment in terms of production lift/milk quality lift
- Improved cow health and welfare
- Comply with milk contract
- Vet or Nutritionist told me to use it
- Pence per cow per day seems reasonable
- Robust research and development or peer-reviewed science to back up the product
- Another farmer recommended it or had success with it
- Visible animal performance benefit i.e. improved dung consistency, better rumen fill, stronger bulling, increased dry matter intake
Cows are not able to produce essential amino acids and so must get them from their diet. The use of these essential amino acids in dairy diets to improve health and production, growth, fertility, and milk quality has been a topic of discussion in our industry since the early 90s. Balancing diets for amino acids is ‘old hat’ to pig and poultry producers but, for the dairy sector, it is not so common.
The cow takes individual amino acids and combines them in chains with specific sequences to make protein in the form of milk, a calf, or muscle along with making the proteins needed to maintain herself (such as enzymes required to digest feeds). As milk yield increases, amino acid requirements increase accordingly. The cow’s protein production is limited by the amino acid in shortest supply when it comes to forming the amino acid chains. This is known as the ‘first-limiting’ amino acid in the diet which will depend upon the amino acid profile of the ingredients in the ration. For dairy cows, it is usually lysine or methionine. For example, soyabean meal and field beans contain relatively low levels of methionine compared to rapemeal and sunflower meal.
The recent decision of one milk processor to penalise farmers if their milk protein percentage falls below 3.1% has led to greater interest in dietary supplements that may help to increase milk protein leading some farmers to invest more time and effort looking into potential nutritional solutions, such as, adding protected methionine.
Soya prices are currently knocking on the door of £400/t and therefore farmers may look to add alternative feeds, such as rapeseed meal, to the ration in order to meet protein requirements or look to increase the protein percentage in parlour cakes and reduce the protein level in the outside ration which, at the present time, could be far more cost effective. This may mean that where methionine might have been limited before, it is no longer.
Why is it that we do not always see a response to feeding methionine on farm?
- Cows are perhaps not under pressure, i.e. low-to-moderate yields
- Methionine was not supplemented at the correct dose per head per day
- The ration contained adequate methionine levels and therefore levels were not limiting
- The methionine source was not rumen protected
- There were so many factors changing on the farm, it was difficult to attribute the change directly to methionine
Food for thought
Are you a 5,000L herd or a 13,000L herd? What are your milk contract requirements and are your cows producing milk that is fit for the purposes of your contract? Are you looking for a nutritional solution to help or is it a case of doing all that you do that little bit better?
With the various uncertainties we are currently faced with (COVID-19, Brexit, raw material prices to name a few), it is now more important than ever that farmers take stock and consider their individual situation, inputs and yield level (are the cows performing where we want/need them to be?) and not necessarily look to a ‘silver bullet’ or ‘sticking plaster’ to try and solve all of the existing problems at once.
METAGOLD, part of our comprehensive product range, is a specialist product that can be fed to milking cows to improve milk protein levels and overall cow performance, and includes protected methionine, Metasmart. To find out more please speak to your local representative or give me a call!