Adequate ration balancing is a crucial component of a dairy farm budget. Undetected nutrient deficiencies or excesses can have different and variable effects on cows’ performance and health. Nowadays more feed ingredients are available to be included in dairy diets.

With feed comprising the largest operating expense, nutrient composition of feed ingredients and feeding strategies are the key profit drivers in modern dairy farms. The DKC’s Feed Library publishes recent research on the main feeds included in dairy cattle diets.

Blue lupin flour

Blue lupin supplementation reduces methane production in dairy cows

Maria Villagrasa & Fernando Diaz

There is great reliance on soybean meal as the main source of protein in animal production, and as a result the animal feed sector is looking for protein alternatives with which to replace it. Blue lupins (Lupinus angustifolius) are a legume of Australian origin that could be an alternative protein source in animal production.

Lupinus is a very diverse and widespread genus in the Fabaceae family with numerous species. It is distributed over a wide range of climates, from the subarctic region to semi-desertic and subtropical climates, as well as from sea level to alpine ecosystems.

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Oilseed rape

Management strategies to maximize production and nutritive value of forage rape

Maria Villagrasa & Fernando Diaz

Rape (Brassica napus) is a plant of the cruciferous family along with cabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, etc. In recent years there has been a significant increase in its productivity, reaching between 11-14 T/ha, mainly as a result of new varieties and hybrids.

This plant offers good quality forage that can be preserved both as hay, silage, or even used as grazed forage because of its good regrowth. There can be large differences however in its dry matter (DM) content depending on the variety, so it is important to select those with the best forage characteristics and high DM production.

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Corn silage

Effects of delayed sealing on corn silage fermentation

Mercedes Gonzalez & Fernando Diaz

Silages contain volatile organic compounds (VOC) that arise from fermentation of organic matter by yeasts and heterofermentative lactic acid bacteria (LAB), enterobacteria or clostridiums, which produce acetic, propionic or butyric acids, and alcohols such as ethanol or propanol. Other VOC are esters and aldehydes. The concentration of VOC in silage varies depending on each forage type, storage conditions and the use of additives.

The VOC present in silages can impart strange smells and result in feed rejection decreasing feed intake, reducing production, and altering cow metabolism.

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Oat

Effects of wilting oat forage on the nutritive value of the silage

Maria Villagrasa

Oats is considered a cold season crop, mainly grown in temperate to colder climates. The overall energy concentration of the forage is low, because of its high fiber and lignin, and low starch concentrations. The grain is high in fat content (4.9%) with high levels of unsaturated fatty acids (35% oleic and 39% linoleic fatty acids),

With a protein content of around 9%. Its solubility and ruminal degradability are very high. Compared to other grains it has a high concentration of essential amino acids particularly high concentration of cystine (3% of the total protein).

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Ryegrass

Effects of cutting time on ryegrass forage

Aurora Alaguero & Fernando Diaz

Ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is a perennial grass commonly used as forage for ruminants in temperate and subtropical climates. It is characterized by producing lots of good quality biomass with high nutritional value, with a high concentration of carbohydrates available to livestock.

The nutritional value of plants not only depends on inheritable traits inherent to each plant species, such as improved cultivars or genetic selection, but also their physiological response to environmental stimuli.

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Forage beets

Forage beets supplementation in dairy cows fed fresh ryegrass

Maria Villagrasa & Fernando Diaz

In areas where pasture is the main type of food, the low efficiency in nitrogen use causes its excess to be excreted and accumulated in the waterways and groundwater. To avoid this, crops with lower N concentrations in their dry matter (DM) compared to pasture have been sought; one such crop is forage beets (Beta vulgaris).

Forage beet is a biennial plant that can grow at temperatures between 8-25oC and is tolerant to drought as well as frost. It produces underground tubers that are shaped like a rounded cylinder and are easily harvested. It has a relatively low DM content (between 12% and 20%) as well as protein (about 6-10% DM basis), calcium and phosphorus. The neutral detergent fiber is 42.0% DM basis, and the acid detergent fiber 22.7%, DM basis. Forage beets can result in a feedstuff of high nutritional and digestible value also highly palatable to dairy cattle.

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Dairy cow

Dairy production systems based on grazing alfalfa

Maria Villagrasa & Fernando Diaz

Grazing has economic, health and animal welfare advantages when compared to breeding in total confinement. However, it is necessary to know and treat each plant species adequately to make the most of it. One of the most used pasture species for grazing is alfalfa, particularly in temperate climates.

Alfalfa has on average 8% pectins, 10% hemicellulose, 25% cellulose and between 7-8% lignin. Therefore, it ensures a rapid transit through the digestive tract, a significant supply of soluble fiber and high buffering capacity. It is a good source of macro minerals, especially calcium, chlorine and potassium. Its content in microminerals (manganese, zinc), vitamins (E, D, biotin and provitamin A), and pigments is also high.

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Cow

Diets supplemented with molasses lowers the risk of sub-clinical ruminal acidosis

Maria Villagrasa & Fernando Diaz

One strategy to reduce the likelihood of ruminal acidosis is to replace starch with sugars. Some experiments have suggested that molasses can increase feed intake and milk production, and that replacing starch with sugars in the cow’s diet does not increase the risk of ruminal acidosis.

Molasses has approximately 75% dry matter (DM) of which 80% are sugars. This makes it very palatable and a good source of energy for cattle for cattle. They degrade easily in the rumen, resulting in a typical butyric acid fermentation.

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Cornfield

Optimizing plant density improves corn silage quality

Alvaro Garcia

Good corn silage hybrids have high yields, high energy, high digestibility, and good animal performance. Critical to maximize silage yields is the selection of the right variety. Similarly, agronomical practices can change not only corn silage yield per hectare but also its nutritive value.

With lower corn silage yields, there is a greater need for livestock supplementation, which increases feed costs. Since starch is deposited in the kernels, the amount of grain in the ration is associated with the energy content of the silage. In the past, the rule of thumb for the corn silage grain-to-forage ratio was 50:50.

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Harvest

Handling dry cow diets with high wheat straw inclusion

Nuria Garcia

In the weeks leading up to calving, dairy cows should consistently eat a balanced diet with the goal of improving dry matter intake (DMI) and metabolic health post-partum.

Cows can have regular intake at the end of their gestation by offering them diets with adequate energy, including feeds with low nutrient density (e.g. wheat straw). These diets are designed to encourage ad libitum intake, while controlling energy uptake so that cows do not gain excessive body condition during the dry period.

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