Pass Me the Extra Protein Daisy!
Are Dairy cows likely to be short of dietary Protein during March?
Normally this would seem a strange question to be asking grass based dairy farmers, be they Autumn or Spring Block Calvers.
In the UK grass based dairy farmers find themselves in a difficult position right now as the cold & wet conditions are severely restricting the ability to graze pastures. Many herds which would normally be outside grazing reasonable pasture by now still have the cows indoors. Many spring calving herds might be heavily feeding for another month. This is very unusual.
The very wet conditions are frustrating to put it mildly. Soil temperatures remain much colder than they normally are in early March. So there is no pasture growth anywhere in the UK.
Even if you are able to graze much of the available pasture has winter kill damage.
Fortunately most dairy farms have adequate grass & maize silage reserves. However the quality of both are not fantastic. Both the energy (ME) & the protein (Crude Protein %) are not great after a wet cool summer in 2009. Protein levels in many grass silage samples are 12-13%.
So is the silage good enough for milking cows?
To answer that question we need to clarify how much dietary protein needs to be in the diet of a milking cow. In most text books it says minimum of 17% crude Protein in early lactation dropping to 15% in late lactation. However work at Travarez Research Centre in Brittany has stated dietary protein requirements more clearly.
Firstly dietary protein is not the only source of protein for the cow. Microbial Protein (microbes flushed from the rumen into the lower intestines, sometimes referred to as bypass protein) & Non Protein Nitrogen may amount to 3% of protein requirements for the milking cow. This Microbial Protein may not all be available if feed energy is limiting.
Secondly the farmer needs to decide what are their business objectives. Do they want to target feeding levels to either a) Fully express genetic potential or b) to operate a low input system.
If you want to "fully express the genetic potential" then dietary protein in early lactation should be 18% crude Protein.
If however you have a "low input system" then dietary protein need only be 14% in early lactation.
This means ofcourse that total Protein is 20-21% in the high input system & 17% in the low input system. There may also be some "cow" protein available post calving in much the same way that the cow converts some body condition to available energy & milk production.
The bad news is that feed protein is currently quite expensive & likely to remain so until perhaps May. This is due to the crushing plants at the Bio fuel sites not being in full production. So there is a short term shortage of Rapeseed Meal & Wheat Distillers.
On current costs of Soyabean Meal £230-240/T, Rapeseed Meal £190/T & Wheat Distillers at £180-£190/T there isn't much in it. Probably you would stick to Soya.
The moist feed Protein options are too expensive when compared on a Dry Matter basis.
Some dairy farmers like Lyndon Edwards are successfully growing lucerne. UK grown peas & beans would also be protein options.
Dairy cows in early lactation that are not fed enough protein tend to produce less milk & retain body Condition Score, whereas cows fed high levels of protein produce more milk but at the expense of Condition Score & more than likely fertility....as these cows often struggle to get back in calf.
Underfed cows also produce less milk in early lactation & carry more condition thru out the lactation. Many of these cows dont get back in calf either.
Many farms will see a response to extra dietary protein as silages are not up to scratch.
What's really needed of course is for my mate the "Reverend Tim" from the Hybrids group in Devon to get his pray book out again & order us all some much needed sunshine & warmth............
.....C'Mon Tim do your thing Mate!
So should you be looking for extra dietary Protein? Maybe!
You need to get out your calculators & check.
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