Nutrition and Feeding

Dairy nutrition is essentially as simple as understanding the nutrient requirements of dairy cows at various stages of lactation and combining various feed ingredients to meet those needs in a cost-effective manner.

However, many dynamic factors influence both nutrient requirements and nutrient availability from feeds. In addition, successful feeding of dairy cows requires accurate mixing and delivery of rations so that the diet fed is the same as the diet formulated.

Diet Formulation and Evaluation

Feeding diets with lowered protein content reduces nitrogen input, improves nitrogen utilization efficiency, and reduces nitrogen losses from manure. Reducing dietary protein also benefits the producer by reducing feed cost and improving overall farm profitability. These interventions, however, have to be balanced with the risk of loss in milk production. If the true animal requirements for metabolizable protein are not met, long-term production cannot be sustained.

Herds with lactating dairy cattle exceeding fecal phosphorus levels from 0.55 to 0.80% on a dry matter basis have opportunity for improvement. Herds that have implemented precision feeding and removed all inorganic phosphorus can maintain these levels. Some contracted farms are observing fecal phosphorus levels over 1.0% on a dry matter basis. Based on the herds in this project, fecal phosphorus below 0.80% is achievable.

Feed efficiency is a simple measure to determine the relative ability of cows to turn feed nutrients into milk or milk components. In the simplest terms it is the pounds of milk produced per pound of dry matter consumed. This measure should always be a consideration of dairy diets and becomes increasingly important during times of tight profit margins.

Agriculture contributes approximately 6 to 7% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Methane from enteric (microbial) fermentation represents 20% and manure management 7% of the total methane emitted. Some dietary practices that have been shown to reduce methane include addition of ionophores, fats, use of high quality forages, and increased use of grains.

This factsheet will describe the variation found in production of milk components, factors that contribute to this variation, and strategies to improve component production.

Microsoft Excel, 103.1 kB

This spreadsheet calculates gross milk price using multiple-component pricing with the option of a somatic cell count adjustment (the formula used in the Mideast Federal Order). To calculate a milk price for the Northeast Federal Order, the somatic cell count adjustment can be set to zero. Users can calculate their current price, project milk price at various levels of fat and protein, evaluate income over feed cost, and calculate total components shipped, providing a complete picture of the impact milk components and milk yield have on the farm's gross income. The spreadsheet also includes a page that can be used to track mailbox milk price over time.

This article explains how nitrogen fed to cows contributes to ammonia emissions and explores feeding strategies to reduce excess nitrogen in the diet.

Environmental concerns with phosphorus (P) have forced the animal industry to re-evaluate the levels formulated in diets. It has been demonstrated in numerous research trials that excess P intake equates to excess P out in the manure.

This publication addresses the phosphorus needs of the dairy cow and ways in which dietary phosphorus can be reduced.

Total mixed rations (TMR) help dairy cows achieve maximum performance and are the most adopted method for feeding high producing, indoor-housed dairy cows in the world. Advantages and disadvantages of TMR feeding systems are presented as well as strategies for successfully managing TMR programs.

This fact sheet will examine the limitations of laboratory analysis methods for predicting forage quality, what the different components are that make up the carbohydrate portion of feeds, and the effect farm management practices have on carbohydrate nutrition.

PDF, 1.7 MB

Much information is needed to evaluate dairy herd nutrition and feeding programs. Collecting this information in a systematic manner helps to ensure that important items are not overlooked. This publication contains worksheets to help capture information necessary for a thorough feeding program evaluation, including body condition scores, feeding systems, available feeds, management records, and lactation curves.

Rumen Function

Proper feeding of the dairy cow is complicated and requires a combination of scientific knowledge, creativity, and good management skills to balance the needs of the rumen microorganisms and the needs of the animal. This comprehensive publication provides background information about how dairy cows convert feeds into milk, with extensive discussion of basic nutrition concepts and descriptions of dairy cattle nutrient requirements and common feedstuffs.

PDF, 884.4 kB

Los costos de alimentación representan el 45 a 60 por ciento del costo total de producción de leche. La clave para maximizar la rentabilidad del predio lechero es mantener los niveles de nutrientes mientras que los costos de alimentación se administran cuidadosamente. Cuando se alcanza una nutrición óptima, las vacas producirán leche de mejor calidad y en grandes cantidades. La salud general debería mejorar, resultando en un ahorro de los costos por honorarios veterinarios, crianza y también tratamiento con fármacos.Un entendimiento básico de la nutrición animal en lo que se refiere a ganado lechero es esencial para un buen manejo del rebaño. Spanish language version of "From Feed to Milk: Understanding Rumen Function."

Dry Cow Nutrition

Proper management and nutrition of the dry cow are critical for obtaining maximum dry matter intake, good health, increased reproductive efficiency, and optimum milk production in the following lactation. Feeding a balanced diet, monitoring body condition, and providing complete health care are the cornerstones of a successful dry cow program.

Troubleshooting Guides

There are many tools that a nutritionist may use to evaluate and monitor the nutritional status of high producing dairy cows. Evaluating the feces or manure can provide information about general health, rumen fermentation, and digestive function of cows.

Producing a high quality food product begins at the farm level. Milk quality cannot be improved after it leaves the farm. Dilution or processing will not make good milk out of bad. Prevention is the only way to assure milk is of good quality and flavor.

Monitoring the milk components of a herd can help assess the health and nutritional status of lactating cows. A herd milkfat test below 0.3% of breed average can indicate a problem situation.

Topics include expected production, low peaks, failure to bag and produce ample milk, excessive decline in milk production and short lactations.

Ration Ingredients

The recent expansion of fuel ethanol production capacity has resulted in an increased availability of ethanol byproducts for dairy cattle feed. Availability of corn distillers grains (DG), often called distillers grains, has increased substantially and, consequently, the interest in using these feeds in dairy cattle diets has also increased.

Using commodity ingredients presents both opportunities and challenges in a dairy feeding program. This article addresses ingredient storage, nutrient composition, and variability and presents an overview of factors to consider in managing a commodity-based feeding system.

Incorporating soybeans and their byproducts in the rations for dairy cattle is a fairly common practice. They are an excellent source of essential amino acids and complement most forages. Depending on how they have been processed, soybeans can provide high quality degradable, undegradable and soluble protein, energy, fat, and fiber. However as with any feed, there are some limitations that need to be recognized so their full benefits to the dairy cow can be achieved.

Nutrition and Health

Dairy products and meat from ruminant animals are important sources of nutrients, supplying high quality protein, energy, and a variety of minerals and vitamins. Research during the last few years reveals other nutritional benefits to the consumption of ruminant food products, particularly dairy products. There is one compound in particular, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), that excites scientists, consumers, and producers, and may have far-reaching, positive effects on milk and meat consumption. (CLA) is a naturally occurring component of ruminant milk fat and meat with potent cancer-fighting properties. Manipulation of the animal’s diet can result in up to a 8 to 10-fold increase in the concentration of CLA in milk. Since consumption of CLA-enriched milk could provide considerable benefits for human health, strategies to produce milk with higher CLA content provide new marketing opportunities.

Foot health and lameness are major issues facing dairy producers because of their common occurrence and the tremendous economic losses incurred. Early detection and prompt treatment can minimize the loss, improve recovery, and reduce animal suffering.

La santé des aplombs et les boiteries sont des soucis majeurs auxquels les producteurs de lait font face à cause de leur apparition fréquente et des pertes économiques énormes engendrées. Une détection précoce et des traitements rapides peuvent minimiser les pertes, favoriser la guérison, et réduire la souffrance animale.

Proper nutrition can minimize the incidence or help control metabolic, infectious, and reproductive disorders in a dairy herd. In this fact sheet information will be presented on the topics of clinical testing, supportive therapy, and prevention of common disorders affecting dairy cattle.

Nombre de produits nutritionnels et de stratégies de management de l’alimentation peuvent être utilisés comme traitement de différents troubles métaboliques et maladies infectieuses. Une nutrition adaptée peut minimiser l’incidence et aider au contrôle des désordres métaboliques, infectieux, et de la reproduction dans des troupeaux laitiers. Ce dossier d’information pratique présente des sujets sur les tests cliniques, la thérapie curative, et la prévention des désordres communs affectant le bétail laitier. Il doit être noté que les infections peuvent compliquer une situation et peuvent être le premier facteur de désordres qui apparaissent être entièrement de nature métabolique.

Topics include possible causes, symptoms and problem situations, forms of milk fever, blood parameters, control suggestions and dietary cation-anion balance.

Cet article inclut causes possibles, symptômes et situation du problème, les formes des fièvres de lait, paramètres sanguins, suggestion de maitrise, balance anion cations.

Body Condition Scoring

Body condition influences productivity, reproduction, health, and longevity of dairy cattle. Thinness or fatness can be a clue to underlying nutritional deficiencies, health problems, or improper herd management. If done on a regular basis, body condition scoring can be used to troubleshoot problems and improve the health, longevity, and productivity of the dairy herd. Body condition scoring is a method of evaluating fatness or thinness in cows according to a five-point scale and using the score to fine-tune dairy herd nutrition and health.

Body condition scoring is a method of evaluating fatness or thinness in cows according to a five-point scale and using the score to fine-tune dairy herd nutrition and health.

Video: Learn how to assign body condition scores for dairy cattle using the method described by Ferguson and co-workers in 1994. This video will teach you to evaluate specific areas of the pelvis and loin in an orderly fashion, which results in consistent and accurate body condition scores. Scores range from 1 to 5 in increments of 0.25. The amount of body fat increases as you move up the scale from 1 to 5.

The Body Condition Scoring spreadsheet series provides a set of tools to evaluate body condition in cows and heifers. Options within the series provide flexibility for monitoring multiple or individual animals and plotting scores against current standards. This spreadsheet series is designed for use with a body condition scoring scale of 1 to 5 in 0.25-point increments. This manual describes operating and interpretation procedures for the files in the series.

Microsoft Excel, 128.4 kB

This spreadsheet provides a snapshot for comparing the body condition score of multiple cows to recommended goals on a single measurement date. This evaluation tool is designed for use with a body condition scoring scale of 1 to 5 in 0.25-point increments.

Microsoft Excel, 129.0 kB

This spreadsheet provides a snapshot for comparing the body condition score of multiple heifers to recommended goals on a single measurement date. This evaluation tool is designed for use with a body condition scoring scale of 1 to 5 in 0.25-point increments.

Microsoft Excel, 78.7 kB

This spreadsheet compares body condition scores of an individual cow over one lactation. This evaluation tool is designed for use with a body condition scoring scale of 1 to 5 in 0.25-point increments.

Microsoft Excel, 74.4 kB

This spreadsheet compares body condition scores of an individual heifer from birth to first calving. This evaluation tool is designed for use with a body condition scoring scale of 1 to 5 in 0.25-point increments.

These photos provide examples of cows with body condition scores across the range of the 5-point scale used for dairy cattle. Each photo includes description of the key observations at that score.

Slideshow presentation: Body condition scoring in dairy cattle.

Water and Water Quality

Water Facts #12, by Bryan Swistock - This fact sheet describes some of the common pollutants found in water supplies in Pennsylvania and their potential effect on dairy cows. It also discusses average water use by dairy cows and how water quality can impact water intake.

This spreadsheet allows you to estimate your daily water use on your farm using some simple inputs. Cells that are highlighted in yellow are cells that you can fill in with estimates from your farm (note that some yellow shaded cells may not apply to your farm operation - in those cases simply leave those cells blank). Cells that are shaded blue will be calculated for you based on your inputs. Your total farm water use will appear at the bottom of this spreadsheet. An example herd of 250 Holsteins is shown in the gray shaded area to the right.