Feeding cows individually to optimise milk, butterfat, protein and body weight (BCS)
We subscribe to the idea: “The only universal truth in dairy farming is – there is no universal truth”
Every farm is as unique as the operator, with its own strengths and weaknesses. Every cow is an individual, each with its own genetic ability, body size, metabolism, etc. Our goal is to dry all cows off with a body condition score of 3.5 (scale 1-5), and to calve them down with the same score. We also aim to maximise pasture and forage utilization.
This is achieved by tailoring supplementary feeding to keep each cow on her own individual ideal body weight curve during lactation, while at the same time feeding her to her exact nutritional requirements to optimise milk and solids production. This has the added bonus of increased fertility, disease resistance, lactation persistency, heavier carcasses, etc.
A cow’s dry matter intake is limited by the Non Detergent Fibre (NDF) fraction of the ration. Maximum NDF intake is between 1.2 – 1.4% of body weight (BW). Therefore bigger cows can consume more kilograms of grass and concentrates than smaller cows, and produce more kilograms fat corrected milk (FCM) than smaller cows. While the kilograms of inputs and production differ, as a percentage of body weight they are the same.
If we accept this, then logically all feeding can take place as a percentage of BW. With entry levels, minimum and maximums all expressed as % of BW, each cow is fed to her own requirements. This also limits maximum concentrates according to cow size, thus preventing acidosis.
Obviously, to achieve the above very sophisticated software and hardware is required. The only management system available that has these capabilities is the Afimilk system from Israel. This is a modular system with many components.
To feed correctly milk meters and scale are the basic requirements. Milk is recorded and cows are weighed at every milking and this data is smoothed by using a rolling average.
The new innovation Afilab which measures BF, protein, lactose, SCC enables us to fat correct the milk and thus feed even more accurately. It is interesting to note that there are wide fluctuations in a cow’s daily milk and butterfat yield. Percentage butterfat varies greatly between cows. BF requires energy to produce, so by fat correcting the milk; concentrates are automatically adjusted to individual requirements. Recording and sampling milk monthly is grossly inaccurate as is sporadic weighing of cows.
The successful operation of the feed system rests on the accurate body condition scoring of cows during the last 18 days before calving. This figure is used to determine whether the cow is under-, over- or the correct weight at calving and determines her virtual ideal weight curve. We recommend that cows are scored by a consultant to achieve consistency and accuracy.
From calving the feed menus take control and the amounts fed are automatically calculated using data such as milk, BW, FCM, lactation number, stage of lactation, fertility status, days to dry off, etc.
Feed menus are adjusted monthly or bi weekly as grass and other forage quantity and quality changes. This is done via the internet using remote control programs. We balance the ration according to Afimilk data as well as information from the farmer, such as quantity and quality of grass and supplements. It is imperative that the information supplied by the farmer is accurate and that grass etc allocation is accurate. It is also essential that feeders are calibrated regularly and that the scale is checked for calibration.