September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Emphasizing the base of dairy nutrition

Chase shares insight on higher forage diets

By by Missy Mussman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

FREEPORT, Minn. - Dairy cows have dietary guidelines to follow.
"The base (forages) have to be done correct," said Dr. Larry Chase, a professor and extension specialist in dairy nutrition at Cornell University. "If it is not done correctly, the rest will never be as good as it could be. So, we need to put our emphasis there."
Chase shared his perspective on higher forage diets with dairy producers and industry specialists during the 2013 Winter Forage Seminars on Dec. 19 at the Freeport Community Center in Freeport, Minn.
With yields down this past year, forages have become an important aspect in dairy cows rations.
"The more forage farmers feed, the less grain will be fed. Farmers will also bring in less nutrient inputs," Chase said. "This will help with lowering feed costs."
For farmers looking at a higher forage diet, Chase shares that there is not one specific forage farmers need to use to make it work.
"Never let anyone tell you that you need a certain forage to make milk," Chase said. "Don't get caught up on one is better than the other. The forage type is less important that the digestibility and quality of it. High quality doesn't always guarantee more milk, but low quality forages will drop milk production."
The type of forages dairy farmers can use is dependent on the soil types they have and the growing conditions they deal with.
"By integrating that into our thinking, farmers can determine which forages they need to grow," Chase said. "Putting this together with good management is a winning game."
When determining the quality of forages, one tool to look at is neutral detergent fiber digestibility, or NDFD.
"It is not always perfect, but it is a starting unit," Chase said. "Digestibility is a big deal. The more digestible the forage is, the more usable it is in a cow. If we can increase our understanding, we will be able to do better with the forage."
Some farmers have been looking at going toward a higher forage diet. Chase said the definition of a high forage diet is that there is more than 60 percent of forages in the ration, cows are consuming more than 0.9 percent of their body weight with forage NDF or there is more that 25 percent NDF in the total ration.
Chase has seen farmers interested in moving towards an all forage diet, but he suggests farmers look at their goals first.
"If it fits your farm goals and economics, then really look into it," Chase said. "It all depends on your goals."
The same goes for farmers looking at a higher forage diet for their farm.
"The individual farm has to determine what fits and what doesn't fit," Chase said.
Feeding a higher forage diet does have its benefits. Farmers can see an increase in milk components, fewer feet problems, less instances of acidosis, a decrease in the amount of grain fed, improved herd health and cows lasting longer in the herd.
"What is an extra lactation worth to you?" Chase said.
When looking at how to implement higher forage diets on a farm and making it work, farmers need to think about several things.
The right mindset is one of the first things farmers have to have.
"Both the farmers and nutritionists have to have the right mindset," Chase said. "They have to believe that forages are going to make milk. If they don't believe that, they shouldn't try it."
Farmers also need consistent quality forages.
"It is more difficult to adjust the ration for nutrients when you are feeding less grain," Chase said.
Another one is forage inventory. This type of diet will require between 15 and 30 percent more forages.
"This is a big one," Chase said. "Farmers need to calculate how much they have. They shouldn't start doing it and run out. They don't want to be in that boat."
In order to stay on top of this, Chase suggests farmers should do frequent inventories and revise their forage program.
Storing forages is also a key aspect. Chase suggests forages should be stored by quality and fed by quality to different groups.
Analyzing forages is important when feeding a higher forage diet.
"Farmers have to do these more often," Chase said. "This will help them keep things on target."
Farmers will also have to check their rations often to maximize forage and adjust where it is needed. They will also have to put a focus on feed management to provide a consistent supply of fresh palatable, high quality feed.
When looking at how much forage should be added into the diet, Chase said it is a decision farmers have to make with their nutritionists.
"There is not one answer," Chase said.
According to Chase the concept of a high forage diet is simple, but applying the factors is more difficult.
If farmers decide to move toward a higher forage diet, Chase suggests farmers start out by taking small steps.
"Increase the forages gradually and then watch the cows for a week or two," Chase said. "The cows will tell you what to do. They will be the judge."
Making sure there are plenty of digestible, high quality forages being allocated to the cows in the right proportions is important, but there is one more important aspect to make it work.
"Farmers have to be patient," Chase said. "It could take two to four years to get it done. Farmers will have to change crops and management to get more forages off the same land."
With more forages being added to the diets, farmers may have to look at their TMR mixers.
"With higher amounts of forages, farmers may have to do two mixes or get a bigger mixer," Chase said.
In the end Chase suggests farmers really do their research before starting a higher forage diet.
"Will it make economic sense for them is a question that needs to be addressed," Chase said. "They need to do it on paper before they implement it. They have to make sure it works for them."
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