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Generating a Greater Milk Yield with Higher Margins when it Really Matters

By Mikaela Baker, (B. Ag Sci), TRAC Ruminant Productivity Consultant

2022 has begun and scheduled milk prices for most farms are increasing over the first and second quarters, positioning dairy farms in good stead for a prosperous year. Setting cows up now and keeping milk production through these tricky hot months is the critical factor to generating a greater milk yield with higher margins when it really matters.

The 2021 silage and hay season has been challenging with rain events and poor drying conditions, yielding mixed quality forages. Thankfully by using the tools we have available we can better understand what feed we have to work with. Planning forward throughout the heat, navigating Autumn sowing and early Winter feed will make it possible to decrease the impacts of feed changes on milk production.

Statistics from Forage Lab Australia show cereal silages have slightly lower energy values compared to the harvest of 2020, 0.5 percentage units lower in crude protein and an average NDF of 52.2%. As expected with a more mature harvest we’ve seen an increase in lignin and a decrease in sugar. Interestingly, despite wet conditions in 2020, silages of 2021 show much higher levels of butyric acid (spoilage acid) than previous years, likely attributed to the greater maturity of plants and consequently, poor compaction. The average dry matter was 38.2% as opposed to 36% in 2020, a contributing factor to lower total silage acids, and lower lactic acid.

Based on this information, there are a few things to consider…

1. Obtain an A1 Plus test from Forage Lab, the Plus test provides information on silage acids.

2. Introduce animals to silage slowly, as butyric acid impacts intake and can impact digestion.

3. If opening the stack and beginning to feed prior to testing, conduct a DM check at home in the microwave to be aware of dry matter of feed presented to animals.

4. Match complimentary hays to your silage, if your silage is over 50% NDF, use in conjunction with a low NDF hay for greater digestibility.

5. Obtain a mould and yeast test on suspect feeds that were rained on or sat on the ground for extended periods of time. With a conclusive mould test, we

can strategically use toxin inhibitors such as Elitox, if and when it’s necessary.

6. Dilution is your best friend when working with tricky feeds.

7. Focus on equal feed access and head space for animals.

Poor weather conditions in many areas has meant hay has sat on the ground for 8 days or more, receiving a single rainfall and in some areas multiple rainfalls. The longer hay sits on the ground, the more susceptible it is to mould growth. Sometimes, it’s possible to see and smell the impacts of mould growth, other times we have to assume the risk and obtain a mould and yeast test on all hay that received any rain or which sat on the ground for two weeks or longer. Obtaining a conclusive mould count, allows us the power to use hay in quantities and combinations that will put less pressure on animal health, therefore we can feed our animals strategically to support production and conception, which otherwise could have been negatively affected by toxin loading.

Some common themes found in hay this season were higher fibre, lower protein, and lower energy, this is particularly challenging when we’re selecting lead feed hay. Unlike other hays, the standard parameters for lead feed do not change, so trying to find the perfect hay in a poor season can take time and it highlights the importance of feed analysis prior to purchase. For many hay samples Forage Lab Australia has assessed so far, protein and energy tend to be closer to 8, while NDF commonly ranges from 50-60. High potassium can result in increased milk fevers. One of the most important aspects of a pre-calving diet is the mineral balance; match hay results with a customized lead feed ration, achieving the right balance is critical to a successful and smooth calving and is essential for a good lactation.

A few things to consider when dealing with poorer quality lead feed hay…

- Allow time for an A1 and DCAD feed analysis and a matching grain mix – aim to test feed 4 weeks or earlier before entering the lead feed paddock.

- We can ensure cows requirements continue to be met with a carefully matched grain mix when using a lower quality lead feed hay, e.g. low protein, high NDF. Often with these hays, we need to feed a higher rate of grain, twice daily to meet energy demands. If energy crashes during calving, we can expect increased incidences of dystocia and ketosis.

- Avoid any lead feed hay with 18% or greater Water Soluble Carbohydrates (Sugar)

- Plan ahead by purchasing enough hay to cover calving for the entire year (if it is ideal quality), that way you can use one lead feed mix and make adjustments as required, rather than restarting rations multiple times.

Balancing protein through summer is often particularly challenging as it’s one of the most expensive feed values. Protein hays are a fantastic digestible feed that adds a lot of value as a low fibre forage source, this harvest, we have seen a wide range in protein hay qualities. Often protein percentage is within the desired ranges, however, NDF is consistently higher. Forage Lab Australia statistics show an average of 45.4% NDF and 8.8 ME of vetch hay, which puts more pressure on making up the lost energy onto cereal grains. We are expecting high prices for canola meal, so consequently we’re considering the important role of lupins, urea, protein hays and protected methionine to make up the difference of reduced usage of canola meal.

Your local team at TRAC are here to assist you in understanding the feed in front of you, from discussing feed analysis results to transition feeding or planning for the year.

Speak with your local TRAC consultant today, your experts in ruminant productivity.


Our Consultants


Tom Thorn

0427 243 319

Owen Rees

0429 437 823

Mikaela Baker

0457 243 319


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Generating a Greater Milk Yield with Higher Margins when it really matters - January, 2022
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