Little by little, the dairy industry is being compelled to move in other directions due to many market forces. With inflation and its effects on the cost of everything, plus the comparatively small ramp up in milk prices, the squeeze is on. Forage Innovations has been an outside-the-box thinker and leader on almost all aspects of surviving in this brave new world of animal agriculture.
The “little by little” step proposed came from the realization (and research) that BMR corn silage fed throughout a lactation is not the panacea it was once thought. Feeding BMR corn silage along with maintaining the high dry matter intakes BMR engenders, creates an inefficient ration. More feed is eaten which seems good, but often the milk production measurement, Dairy Efficiency (also known variously as Feed or Milk Effiency) that is Energy-corrected Milk Produced, Divided by Feed Actually Eaten tells a different story. We at Forage Innovations have long realized this fact.
In an article in the March 2022 Dairy Herd Management (DHM) magazine titled “Back Off the BMR after Transition” proposed only feeding BMR corn silage for the 3 weeks prior to freshening until about 3 weeks after. Now, more recently, Hoard’s Dairyman (July 2022, p 372, Field to Feedbunk, by Ev Thomas and Dan Weirsma) an article titled Brown Midrib Corn – It’s Just Different covers the same subject.
This strategy is only part of the solution, but at least, “little by little” the world is starting to understand the true meaning of efficiency when feeding dairy cattle. The commonly applied definition of dairy efficiency is to “stuff as much feed as is possible into a cow so her maintenance cost (i.e., maintaining the cow’s existing body weight, reproduction, and possibly a growing fetus, etc.) is spread out among more pounds of feed. This strategy forgets a cow is not in a steady state. To get a lot of feed into a cow (or a little bit more into an already stuffed cow) means that previous feed must move out of the rumen before the already-paid-for energy is filly digested. Often, the feed can go out of the rumen so fast that its optimal digestion has not occurred. This makes for extremely expensive manure!
The DHM article asserted you can take advantage of the BMR corn silage’s ability to increase dry matter intake levels (DMI) through the critical transition periods (3 weeks before freshening to about 3 to 4 weeks after). After that, it becomes more efficient to switch away from BMR back to conventional corn silage (non-BMR) for the rest of the lactation. This switch from BMR promotes a higher milk-feed efficiency and profitability. This will now be Corteva’s (nee Pioneer’s) new recommendation (we have not yet heard from Brevant, nee Mycogen).
Work at Cornell, the WH Miler Institute, the US Forage Research Center and at Utah State University showed that after the early encouragement of high DMIs in the transition period, milk efficiency falls off. The article stated there is a two-way inefficiency in raising and feeding BMR corn silage.throughout the lactation. Not only do you need more corn silage, but also the yield of the BMR is 10 to 15% lower than non-BMR varieties. It is a double whammy.
At Forage Innovations, efficiency is defined slightly differently. We think it should be “getting the most out of each pound of feed providing that body weight and herd health are maintained.” Yes, it is easy to look profitable when you are merely robbing nutrients (especially energy) off a cow’s back, but that is not what we are talking about. It is getting optimal digestion of forages and in our case, utilizing a certain amount of cool-and especially warm-season grasses. These forages along with corn silage and clovers, allow for a ration where the NDF digestion in a high NDF (high forage) diet is maximized.
Do not get us wrong, we are all for doing the things necessary to get cows to optimize (but not maximize DMI). All the things such as enough room at the feed bunk, preventing sorting, accurate ration delivery and on and on are excellent management tools and we recommend them. The magic, however, is in the forages, and in feeding forages that are highly digestible, and with low indigestability, but also with a slightly longer residence time in the rumen to gain further digestion of this already-paid-for energy.
To accomplish this, warm season grasses provide this magic. Again, more milk per pound of feed! The financial ramifications of this feeding strategy are mind-blowing.
So why is this move to limit BMR corn silage only a “little” step? Consider the “Rethinking Rotations” approach. Rethinking Rotations (RR) is a program or forage system that takes a whole herd and whole farm approach of having your forages work for you – not just planting the newest and greatest version of the what you planted last year. Yes, consider these important parts of the RR cropping system:
- Utilizing forages that can maximize the yield of high-quality (meaning high-available-energy) forages.
- Using rotations which optimize the next crop. For example, following sorghum crops with corn silage. See our article titled, “Why following sorghum with corn is such a good idea in the forageinnovations.guru website under the archived newsletter articles section. As always, practicing even simple crop rotation is a profitable idea.
- Not depending on just one crop to carry most of the load and spreading risk for occurrences of uncooperative weather.
- Always having a place to go with manure. Taking the strain off manure capacities and chances for overflow by having growing crops with ravenous root systems to efficiently utilize these valuable nutrients.
- Always having live roots in the ground (cover crops) with winter small grains for more high-quality forage.
- Using mostly crops with massive, complex root structures is the best way of increasing soil organic matter. The new term is “regenerative” agriculture.
- Produce more dairy quality forage. We have clients who have gone from being seriously short on forage to being able to convert excess acres to a “cash” crop to now having extra forage in less than 2 years on the Rethinking Rotations Program!. What a difference?
Forage Innovations can help you either “little by little” or by taking a big step into forage programs designed to fit your dairy’s needs and circumstances. Daniel Olson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or you can reach me at email@example.com. My phone is 608-516-0101 and our website is forageinnovations.guru.
PS: Do we ever recommend BMR? Well, we actually have available an Eastern European version agronomically quite different than the domestics. Where does BMR fit in? It is the best option when you are on a high-corn silage along with alfalfa diet.