Higher Forage Rations Can Make Sense for Dairy Cows

Studies have shown that forage feeding levels are on the rise. This is in part due to improvements in forage quality, corn hybrid yields and available forage varieties. Advances in production, management and storage methods also have played a part.
Farms today are producing more tons of high-quality, better digestible forage per acre. The result is a greater inventory of forage for feeding programs.
The benefits of feeding higher forage rations include the ability to pay less in feed costs and improve income over those costs. Other benefits are improved milk components, better animal health, lower culling rate and cows that are able to stay in the herd for longer periods of time.
Dairy cows want fiber digestible and palatable forage. If cows are fed silage, it needs to be well-fermented. It also needs to have an adequate amount of physical fiber – the type that supports chewing, rumination and rumen health.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when implementing a higher forage feeding program for your dairy herd:

  1. Consistency. As you increase the amount of forage you feed to your dairy cows, the amount of grain you feed must be decreased.
  2. Inventory. Make sure you have enough inventory of forage keeping in mind that it may take up to 30% more forage to feed the same number of cows.
  3. Allocation and Storage. In order to allocate specific quality forages to certain groups of animals, you need to have the room to store those forages by quality.
  4. Analysis. Frequent analysis is required to keep your forage feeding program on track. Neutral detergent fiber digestibility needs to be included in the analysis package.
  5. Ration Formulations. To keep the program on target, rations need to be checked more frequently using forage analysis data. Rations may need to be adjusted frequently to account for changes in forage dry matter. On-farm dry matter determinations should be used.
  6. Feeding Management. Cows in higher forage feeding programs will need more time to eat. They also will require more bunk space. Further, higher forage rations are bulkier which may impact the number of mixes made daily.
  7. Patience. It will take cows time to adjust to eating higher forage rations. While cows are adjusting it is important that you keep an eye on dry matter intake, milk production and components, chewing and rumination, and the consistency of manure.

While there are challenges and its implementation will take time and effort, feeding dairy cows higher forage rations can benefit dairy herds. Rations work with the biology of the cow and can improve profitability. Keep in mind, however, that if you aren’t committed to sustaining forage quality and consistency, these benefits will not be realized.

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