Using feed additives to improve milk production efficiency

13-10-2015 | Updated on 13-08 | |
Evidence suggests that getting the right additives to optimise feed can  lead to increased animal health and wellbeing, production efficiency and  increased income on the dairy farm. Photo: Mark Pasveer.
Evidence suggests that getting the right additives to optimise feed can lead to increased animal health and wellbeing, production efficiency and increased income on the dairy farm. Photo: Mark Pasveer.

In order to maximise profitability from the production of cows’ milk, farmers are increasingly focused on improving the efficiency of feed and animal production. One method to consider is the use of feed additives to optimise health and well-being.

Farmers can achieve efficient milk production by investing in high quality genetics, but this can depend on the maintainance of high-quality rations. Evidence from trials and practical experience indicates that a reliable and cost-effective way of earning more profit from cows’ milk is through optimising feed with the right additives. This is important for farmers not only to ensure that milk production is profitable, but also to ensure optimal health and well-being for cows.

Longer productive life with

A longer productive life is associated with low culling rates and high fertility. Regular breeding can be helped by ß-carotene, a plant pigment that acts as a vitamin to support fertility in dairy cows. It accumulates in the ovaries and participates in the synthesis of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, both of which are important for ovulation and for safeguarding the embryo. Trials conducted worldwide show that optimal dietary levels of Rovimix ß-carotene increase conception rates and lower the number of abortions. Pregnancy rates for first in-seminations in a practical farm trial conducted in France increased by almost 40% in ß-carotene supplemented cows. Calving intervals were reduced by 27 days and milk yield increased by more than 400 kg per cow and lactation (Table 1).

Supplementation with ß-carotene is advisable because it is not always available in optimum amounts in dairy cow feed. For instance, maize silage has a negligible concentration of ß-carotene. In addition, its presence in most grass silage is below the requirement for optimal cow fertility (Figure 1click here for pdf). Low dietary levels of ß-carotene often mean that the oestrus is hard to identify, which can result in missed breeding opportunities. One missed oestrus means that 21 days are lost before the next lactation starts and several missed oestruses can result in otherwise healthy cows being culled. Statistics collected by the USDA (2007) reveal that around 26% of cows culled from modern dairy herds are slaughtered because of fertility problems. Correct supplementation of ß-carotene in rations leads to an improvement in cows’ fertility, health and welfare. Other recorded advantages include more regular ovulation, better foetal health and reduced incidence of retained placenta; as well as better calf health.

Vitamin E – a natural way to control mastitis

Health issues such as mastitis can also lead to losing otherwise productive cows. Vitamin E is an important feed additive for the natural control of mastitis. Optimal levels of this vitamin (which cannot be synthesised by the cow) in pre-calving and immediate post-calving rations has been proven to increase immune system resistance to mastitis infection, reducing mammary infections at calving by up to 80%. Clinical and sub-clinical mastitis remain among the biggest drains on dairy profitability (Table 2). Supplementing rations with vitamin E, such as Rovimix E, has proved cost-effective and efficient in combating this serious problem. Correct amounts of vitamin E have also proved to decrease the duration of mastitis in infected cows by as much as 50% (Figure 2 – click here for pdf). Moreover, higher levels of vitamin E in the rations for dairy cows showed that the correct levels reduce cases of udder oedema and milk somatic cell counts.

Biotin for increased milk yield

There are also clear advantages gained from boosting dairy cow rations with biotin. A summary of five published studies in the US and Europe indicated that daily biotin (20 mg/cow/d) boosted milk yield by more than 2 kg per day, even when these cows were already producing 36 kg. Biotin has a proven ability to stimulate glucose synthesis in the liver, the main energy source for milk production. While it is true that some biotin is synthesised by rumen microbes, modern research shows that high yielders respond well to extra biotin in their rations. This is due to the fact that the natural biotin synthesis by the cow decreases when high-energy diets are fed.
Biotin is also a crucial component in metabolism for the synthesis of keratin and lipids, important building blocks for naturally strong horns and robust hoofs, thus allowing for the best possible support for optimal lifetime production from high-yielding dairy cows. Results from independent trials worldwide prove that just 20 mg of biotin per day from Rovimix Biotin significantly re-duces incidences of the most common hoof disorders in dairy cows, such as sole ulcers, white line disease, sandcracks and digital dermatitis. Preventing lameness in this way not only produces an economic advantage for biotin supplementation, it also plays an important role in enhancing animal welfare in the dairy herd.

Optimising utilisation of starch with enzymes

Feed enzymes are a radical innovation in dairy cow nutrition and a shift in the paradigm. There is currently only one enzyme for dairy cows on the market that works in the rumen. Ronozyme RumiStar is a pure amylase that helps to hydrolyse slowly fermentable corn starch, shifting the digestion more towards the rumen. This provides more energy for the micro-bial growth of cellulose-degrading bacteria and thus increases fibre digestibility in the rumen. Trials with this feed additive in North America and Europe demonstrate its capability to optimise the utilisation of starch in the rumen. This characteristic especially alleviates the energy gap in the first 150 days of lactation. The cow can recover rapidly from an energy deficiency during this critical period.
The more forage that can be utilised profitably by the cow, the greater the potential for a reduction in feed costs. Starch in the ration contributes 50% to 75% of the energy value in maize silage and corn grain. Trials prove that this feed additive results in an extra 2 kg milk on average, with increases of up to 4.4 kg/cow/d – with no increase in feed intake and no negative effect on the rumen pH (Figure 3 – click here for pdf). This produces a significant rise in feed-to-milk efficiency.

Improving gut health with eubiotics

Eubiotics are a new range of feed additives used to improve gut health in monogastrics, which have also been shown to modulate the rumen microflora. Precise blends of essential oil components in trials have been shown to deliver benefits as a supplement to dairy cow rations and also to beef cattle. Essential oils are steam volatile, secondary plant compounds. In this sense, the term ‘essential oils’ is misleading, because they are neither indispensable nor are they fats nor oils; but they are polyphenols or terpenes.
Crina Ruminants, a precise blend of essential oil components, increases milk yields on average by 1.5 kg/day when top-dressed. The modulation of rumen bacteria by essential oils can lead to more than a 7% increase in milk production and thus a 10:1 return on feed supplement expenditure. The essential oils stimulate animal appetite and feed consumption, and optimise the rumen environment to help feed transition management in the digestion tract. This, in turn, allows for the optimum production of milk and its protein and fat components.
Evidence suggests that getting the right additives to optimise feed can lead to increased animal health and well-being, production efficiency and increased income on the dairy farm. Longevity is key for efficient milk production and lifetime performance depends on healthy cows, which depends on their diet. Poor digestibility and nutrient excretion can lead to severe losses in profitability and Amylase has the potential to fully  exploit the nutritive value of rations rich in corn starch without having negative effects on rumen pH. Feed additives such as vitamin E, biotin and ß-Carotene supplemented at OVN levels play an important role in reducing the risk of production dis-eases and thus early culling.

References available on request.

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