The past 12 months have seen fertiliser prices increase by more than 300%. This has led to many farmers looking for alternative nutrient inputs. Many weird and wonderful materials are applied to the land for their fertiliser content – composts, paper crumble, food waste, sewage sludge, seaweed and many others. But the most frequently used, and often the most freely available, is animal muck – more commonly referred to as manures and slurries. Fresh grass is of fantastic quality and if last season’s early ME levels of 12.53MJ/kg DM are repeated this year then, utilising this will be key. But ME is a prediction and can only be achieved when rumen function is optimal, and the feed is held in the rumen long enough to be broken down. Last year’s sugars, rapidly degradable carbs and acid load are all high, so supplementation must reflect this, and it must be done early to prevent rather than cure At grass, healthy rumen function and reducing the inevitable butterfat drop are focused around 4 key areas.
- Fibre quantity and rumen pH – Grass of course contains fibre, but additional fibre through supplementation may still be required to provide enough nutrients for rumen bacteria. Butterfat producing bacteria require fibre but they also require a higher rumen pH and time to break the nutrients down.
- Rumen retention time – Similar to the note above, bacteria need enough time to digest the nutrients and create the relevant acids. Cows will often have loose dung at grass but if this gets excessively loose then butterfats and milk yield will be challenged. Again, managing fibre intake and rumen pH will be essential.
- Oil – The type of oil supplied in the grass is high quality, good for yields and fertility but acts negatively against milk fats. There is little that can be done about this but be aware of other oil supplements or feeds high in oil that may exacerbate the problem.
- Heat Stress – It happens every year and has a material effect on our stock. Ensuring energy intakes remain high will help but buffering the rumen to a higher level than normal is required. This will reduce stress, but it must be applied early and now is that time.