Balancing Diets for Effective Grass Utilisation on Farm
18th April 2019

Laura Kennedy Ruminant Nutritionist at Fane Valley Feeds

Laura Kennedy Ruminant Nutritionist at Fane Valley Feeds outlines the key to a successful turnout Strategy.

Grazed grass is the cheapest forage available and with falling milk price, efficient grass utilisation is important to boost farm profitability, but diets must be balanced to ensure cow health, fertility and milk production is not compromised.

The grazing opportunities vary from farm-to-farm with ground availability and weather conditions influencing management decisions. Lower yielding, stale cows should be turned out to grass first, initially for only a few hours and the proportion of grazed grass in the diet should then be gradually increased to help the rumen transition. If possible, batching cows to ensure high yielding or freshly calved cows remain on a winter diet is beneficial to reduce the likelihood of a negative energy balance in early lactation and maximise their performance. Part time grazing with buffer feeding has become increasingly popular on farms and is a viable option for those who are not able to batch cows. This helps to increase dry matter intakes and maintain a heathy rumen pH, especially when high yielding cows are grazing lush, wet grass and receiving high levels of concentrates.

Choosing the right grazing strategy to suit your system is important, and the type of concentrate offered should be considered carefully to ensure it complements the forage in the diet. Fane Valley Feeds offers a wide range of Summer Rations to suit all grazing systems which vary from 14-20% crude protein, with an emphasis on the use of low protein concentrates in Spring when grass protein is at its highest. Our Summer compound range contains Hi Pro Soya and Rapeseed which provides undegradable dietary protein to complement the high rumen degradable protein levels in Spring grass to maximise protein utilisation.

Fibre levels should also be considered when choosing a summer feed. Lush Spring grass passes through the rumen quickly due to the low fibre levels which lowers the pH, causing acidosis and rumen inefficiency leading to the typical grazing scenario of milk quality issues. To address this, Soya Hulls and Sugar beet are present in our range as they contain digestible fibre which helps enhance rumination and maintain butterfat concentrations at grass. The Fane Valley Summer product range including Top Graze Dairy nuts and 209 Super Graze Dairy nuts also contain Acidbuf and ActiSaf yeast which are rumen buffers that help to prevent acidosis and improve the utilization of nutrients by stabilizing the rumen pH. The 216 Grass Cream Dairy nut incorporates rumen buffers but also contains a C16 protected fat, which is designed to considerably enhance milk butterfat.

It is vital that a cows mineral requirements are met while grazing to maintain fertility and health. The Elite Mineral pack included in our Feed range contains Selplex and Bioplex trace elements including Copper, Iodine, Zinc and Selenium which maximise fertility and overall health while Biotin is also included to improve hoof strength and reduce lameness.

To maximise performance from grass, cows must be turned out to young, leafy grass and overall diets need to be balanced to ensure the concentrates fed compliment the forage offered. Buffer feeding offers an alternative to full time grazing and can help to maintain dry matter intakes, improve rumen function and maximise milk quality.