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Feed some energy to those there cows

It is becoming increasingly evident that some form of energy feed is essential to not only maintain a healthy cow, but also reduce metabolics given and help her get in calf. The high empty rate of all grass fed cows must send alarm bells ringing in every dairy farmers head.

Let's explore some of the well-worn issues around feed utilisation, empty rates etc.:

On the Taranaki demonstration farm, they have just completed a study of feeding molasses. An excellent trial was completed, feeding to two separate herds, one with molasses and one without. Pitman, who ran the trial, found that each cow consumed an average of 441 litres of molasses which equates to 588 kg.

The trial showed an increase in production for the molasses fed herd of 15%, or 46 kg/ms per cow. At $4.00 per kg, that equates to $186 per cow. Other observations of the molasses fed herd were:
    Cows milked for an additional 16 days
    The herd consumed less silage
    By the end of the season, the remaining grass cover was higher.
The above were all excellent results, but the most significant point in the trial was that the 10 week empty rate dropped from 24% to 7%. That is about 3½ times less empty cows.

But it doesn't stop there, how good would it be if you had 17 less empty cows per 100? Also consider that it just might be that we lose all our top performing cows to empties and culling just because they are so busy milking. Maybe this could be turned around by feeding molasses to them.

At a cost of $1,000 to rear a replacement heifer and allowing a cull price of $400, then that is $600 per head margin. An example using the above figures is as follows:

17 cows per 100 x $600 = $10,200

In a herd of 500 cows, that is a saving of $51,000 per annum. So if you extend all this out, not only do you get a production increase, less metabolics, less empties, but less herd wastage in general. This all makes good sense doesn't it?

One of the key areas that molasses helps with is assisting the rumen to digest wet sloppy grass in the spring. Apparently, the stomach flora is unable to function properly without energy input. This is also made worse by higher Nitrogen content in spring feed.

On my own dairy farm, we fed molasses right through the spring, with excellent results. Additionally, we had small containers of molasses out for the freshly calved cows, so they could get their energy up again immediately. I read recently that if you have one cow with milk fever, there will be another 20 with sub-clinical symptoms.

I had a client who was producing 1,400 kg/ms per hectare and over 400 kg/ms per cow. This was achieved using mainly grass, summer crops and molasses. He had a simple system set up where each row was let out onto the concrete walk away area for a feed of molasses. This area was set up with concrete troughs which had ply lids on to keep the rain water out. Once fed, he pushed each row out from this area to let the next row in to have a feed. More than that, he had the troughs situated so that the molasses truck could simply back up to refill them using a big hose – simple.

While I respect all systems of cow feeding, I remain in favour of low cost, low input grass systems and I feel that molasses is a must for all the reasons discussed above. I believe in letting the cow cut and cart her own feed and to enable this, a simple input system maybe the best.

In summary, the trial on molasses completed at Stratford has highlighted some key issues (The Dairyman – July 2006 issue).

The benefits of feeding molasses may not be so much production based, but rather fewer empty cows in the herd and therefore less herd wastage. The benefits would also be multiplied as the best cows would stay in the herd, not needing to be culled because they were empty.

It is clear that some simple form of energy supplementation is essential and molasses just might fit the bill.


 

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