Defra average farmgate prices have shown a steady rise in the price of milk over the past few months with a global demand for butterfat believed to be driving up prices. However, Farmers are urged not to be complacent with margins and to utilise available forage to achieve maximum yields.
“Traditionally the sole purpose of adding sugar has been for energy requirements but this should not be the case, “says Bronwen Pilhwret, QLF sales representative. “We know that adding sugar to rations can increase rumen efficiency by reducing ration sorting and even increase milk yields. Sugar is often overlooked as a cost-effective way of utilising rations; however, it could be the key to making the most of fibre content.
“Some of this year’s silage has shown to be lacking in neutral detergent fibre digestibility (NDFD), a vital component for both energy supply and rumen function. To gain the maximum energy possible from dry matter (DM), fibre needs to be digestible and optimum rumen function is essential to ensure none of the feed is wasted.
Research supported by the Journal of Dairy Science concluded that feeding a molasses based liquid feed as part of a silage-based TMR showed significant results by increasing dry matter intake (DMI), NDF intake, milk fat yield, and milk protein yield compared to a control diet. “Overall if you can increase DMI, and maintain optimum rumen conditions not only will you achieve optimum milk production whilst also remaining cost effective as feed is being converted efficiently,” states Ms Pilhwret.
“As the results show, by reducing sorting and increasing DMI and NDF intake, sucrose present in the liquid feed diet has directly affected the cow’s rumen efficiency as sugar is a rapidly fermentable source for rumen microbes”.
Increased rumination time
Research has shown that feeding a QLF liquid supplement can increase rumination times by 20 minutes per day. This is important as rumination time influences DMI and stimulates the production of saliva secretion which may also improve rumen function.
“Post calving cows require a balanced ration to help combat negative energy. Therefore, feeding a liquid supplement can be an effective strategy to increase rumination time, and as an indicator of cow health and performance. It’s known that cows that ruminate for longer have a greater DMI and milk yield during the first two weeks after calving, which is essential to prevent metabolic diseases.
Reduced ration sorting
When adding straw as a source of fibre, inadequate chopping or mixing of straw can promote ration sorting, which may precipitate sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA).
“When feeding a TMR it’s important that the long-fibre particles cannot be easily sorted away from the rest of the diet as this could delay consumption until later in the day or cause them to be refused completely. Research has shown liquid feed markedly reduced the sorting of long particles with 69% of cows on liquid feed consuming expected long particles compared to 55% of control cows.
“Providing long-fibre particles less than 5cm in length, and by having adequate moisture in the ration. Including ingredients such as liquid molasses can help to reduce sorting but also achieve increased milk production and quality,” advises Bronwen.
Improved milk yield
Research has shown that adding sugar to rations can lead to improved milk fat and protein compared to a control diet (See Table 1). Table 1 shows that milk fat yield increased from 3.42lb/d on the control diet to 3.7lb/d.
Cows that consumed a liquid feed within their ration produced more milk per pound of feed consumed, meaning that an optimum feed conversion rate was achieved. In addition, this has been achieved without increasing the proportion of concentrates needed in the ration. “We all want to improve feed conversion rates and not only has research proven this but we know by adding a liquid improves palatability and DMI which help to increase overall milk production”.
Increased NDF intake
Digestibility of NDF is an important factor in forage quality as digestibility varies widely in its degradability in the rumen. Generally dairy rations should contain at least 25% NDF with the majority coming from forages.
“Emphasising the importance of NDF is key as it can directly improve feed and energy intakes and milk production. When forages are low in NDFD, either a replacement with higher energy forage or supplementation with a sugar can help to improve forage digestion, milk production and efficiency. However, these strategies may take 1 to 3 weeks to see the responses in DMI or milk yield, and any implementations should be tried and evaluated short term before making long-term changes with your feed”, says Bronwen.
Overall to achieve an ideal milk composition and maintain margins it’s important that quality forage is utilised as the main source of energy. The multiple benefits of adding a liquid sugar to rations can help to deliver milk yield potentials without the need for large amounts of concentrates. This makes liquid sugar a cost-effective choice when supplementing winter rations.