A high feed intake value is the lynchpin for efficient and successful milk/meat production, especially for high-performance dairy cows, as it plays an important role in providing enough energy and nutrients. The feed intake is determined by the palatability of the forage, meaning its “tastiness”. In this respect, cows are no different to humans!
Feed intake and energy content
The feed intake positively correlates to the forage´s energy and nutrient content. Energy and nutrient-rich forage indicates young plants, high digestibility and a good conservation.
The figure shows the impact of differing energy contents in grass silage upon the feed intake and the maximum milk production. In this calculated example, the milk production increases by approximately 15 kg ECM/cow/day, if the energy content of the grass silage, combined with a higher feed intake, rises from 5.4 to 6.6 MJ NEL/kg DM.
Animals appreciate properly fermented feed
The forage´s palatability is also directly affected by unpleasant smells and tastes. These can be caused by mould formation, faulty fermentation or heat generation. Therefore, particular attention has to be paid to the dry matter content, fermentation quality and aerobic silage stability. Additionally, the correct crop composition, as there may be plant species present which deteriorate the palatability of the forage, or are even toxic to the animals.
The impact of dry matter content and the forage fermentation upon the feed intake is illustrated in the table. Whilst the energy content ranges from low to medium and very good, the fermentation quality differs between relatively wet silage with butyric acid, and silage with adequate moisture and no butyric acid. Butyric acid formation is an example of faulty fermentation caused by clostridia. This occurs if the ensiled forage could not wilt sufficiently and was contaminated with too much soil.
The result is clear: Cows prefer dry, well-fermented forage, rich in energy.
Maximum amount of dry matter intake from grass silage of uneven quality (kg DM/cow and day)
Source: Spiekers et. al., 2009.
The more palatable the forage is, the more the cows will take up. Therefore, increased feed intake and palatability has a strong influence on the profitability of milk and meat production.
Remember: a highly palatable basic ration equals a highly profitable process!
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