Making best use of blends on dairy farms this winter

The use of blends offers dairy farmers a number of key benefits, chief among them being the flexibility and versatility which the option of using a wagon brings to bear within a feeding operation. But as United Feeds’ Jenny Hamilton points out, there is also an onus on the farmer to manage his herd in ways that will ensure that best value is obtained from the TMR prepared.

“Essentially, this means grouping cows into high and low yielding groups. Feeding a TMR flat rate across the entire milking herd is entirely counterproductive. With so many herds now having a year round calving pattern, there will be cows that are significantly above and below the average daily output for the entire milking group.

“Within a group that is averaging 30 litres per day there could be fresh cows giving 50 plus litres and cows that are about to be dried off giving closer to 15 litres. Simply flat rate feeding these cows with a TMR, even with the addition of topping up in the parlour, would mean that a significant number of cows would be over fed and an equal number of cows under fed.

“This approach is counterproductive from two points of view: at one level it is acting to reduce the potential performance that could be achieved from the cows in the herd while, at the same time, increasing the overall cost of every litre of milk produced by the herd as a whole.

Jenny went on to point out that once segregated, the TMR should be formulated to meet the nutritional requirement of the lowest producing animal in each group and added:

“But milk yield is not the only factor that should be taken into account when formulating a TMR. For example, the lowest yielding cow in a herd might be giving twelve litres per day. But her body condition score should also be taken into consideration. And if this needs to be increased, the most obvious way of doing this is to ensure that the TMR she receives takes account of this requirement.

“Another key advantage of using blends is the fact that they allow the farmer to ensure the exact inclusion rate of all feed additives. This is due to the fact that the blend will be included in a ration at a flat rate. And, if we know what this is, then the United Feeds’ team can ensure that the additives required are included at the levels which will ensure an optimal response from the animals being fed.”

But as Jenny Hamilton also pointed out, a blend is only one part of a TMR: the other component is the forages or forages that are included in the mix.

She continued: “It is critical to have forages regularly analysed throughout the feeding season. This is a service which we provide to our customers on an ongoing basis. In fact, it is forage quality that will determine the specification of the blend required, based on the level of performance required from the stock being fed.”