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‘Cocktail’ approach optimises rumen function (Sept 2021)

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Switching to a more sustainable fat source has improved ration utilisation and cow performance on one Gloucestershire-based unit.


With some retailers already banning the use of palm oil and its derivatives in feeds for its dairy suppliers, unless certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), producers are seeking alternatives to help maintain productivity. To meet demanding sustainability goals, while increasing yields and productivity, relies on accurate measurement of energy and protein values in rations. “For producers keen to reduce their reliance on these products, without adversely affecting milk yield and quality or compromising health and fertility, the key is to achieve better ration utilisation,” explains UFAC-UK’s Joe Magadi.

“This should be a combination of non-palm oil rumen inert fats, based on balanced essential fatty acids, and slow-release rumen conditioners and fermenting sugars,” he explains. “This cocktail approach ensures optimal rumen function, stable rumen pH, greater digestion, and maximum dry matter intake. And this increases total energy supply.”

The key to achieving this lies in feeding rumen-inert fat balanced in the essential fatty acids, plus long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Altogether, the intervention will have a positive impact on cow productivity, as well as provide nutritional benefits for consumers, and an environmentally sustainable advantage.

“This feeding strategy promotes dry matter intake and increases energy content in the diet, while maintaining adequate fibre intake for milk fat synthesis and microbial protein production,” says Mr Magadi. Gloucestershire-based producers Richard and Neil Robinson have benefited from adopting this approach, paying close attention to what the cows are telling them and fine-tuning the dairy ration accordingly.

Difficult season

The father and son team run a simple system on their 135-hectare tenanted unit near Tewkesbury. The herd grazes in the summer and is buffer fed with concentrate through the parlour. A TMR is fed in the winter, using a Keenan diet feeder to optimise mix quality.

The farm is mainly down to grass for the cows, plus 150 followers, and 40 hectares of maize are grown every year along, as well as six hectares of fodder beet. The all-year-round calving closed herd is averaging 11,000 litres, at 3.81% butter fat and 3.24% protein, with 3,800 litres produced from forage.

Neil first approached UFAC-UK’s Mike Chown after a difficult forage season, which saw the herd struggling to perform.

Undigested feed

“When I walked the cows, I was concerned by a number of things,” says Mike. “There were cows with excess body condition loss in early lactation. And a significant amount of variation in the dung with undigested feed passing through the cows, signalled an issue with acidosis.”

To limit the extent of body condition loss, Mike wanted to increase energy supply while, at the same time, limiting the acidosis risk. He advised Neil to swap the palm oil-based fat for Dynalac, which contains a balanced fatty profile, including long chain omega 3s, EPA and DHA, to provide more effective energy to the cow. Neil agreed to try a weight-for-weight swap for a five-week trial period, and he was pleased with the results. “As soon as we changed fats, we saw an increase in peak yields,” he says. “And when we switched back again the cows did not yield as well and many fell away more quickly. So we swapped back to Dynalac again and it remains in the blend we are currently using to buffer feed.”

Mike adds that improving rumen health has led to a reduction in concentrate feed rates. “The Robinsons are now feeding around 2.6 tonnes of concentrate per cow, down from closer to three tonnes. We have also reduced the cost of the blend, and better rumen health means the rumen buffer inclusion rate has been halved, saving £300 per month.”

Rumen function

Working closely with producers, UFAC-UK has consistently demonstrated that, with carefully balanced rations, focusing on optimising rumen function and feeding a combination of Dynalac and Glyco-Buf (a highly palatable, free-flowing, slow-release meal), high levels of milk production and milk constituents can be achieved. In several herds, with an annual rolling average milk production of 30kg per cow per day, milk fat and milk protein remained above 4.1% and 3.4% respectively, with a daily intake of 500g Dynalac and 300g Glyco-Buf per head per day.

“The outcomes show that, with optimal rumen function and stable rumen pH, supplementation with rumen-inert balanced fatty acids and slow-release glucogenic source are a practical and economic alternative to the feeding of palm fat derivatives,” concludes Joe Magadi.

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