Feeding cows for good body condition and high milk production

Dairy farmers are advised to feed their animals on silage for a better return. Photo / NMG

What you need to know:

  • Feeding less nutrients can result in weak animals prone to diseases with poor body condition, low milk production and reproduction problems.

A balanced diet for dairy cows should contain the right amount of nutrients. Feeding too much is uneconomical and can impact cows’ health.

Feeding less nutrients can result in weak animals prone to diseases with poor body condition, low milk production and reproduction problems.

Nutrients

Carbohydrates and fats supply energy, proteins build up strong muscles, minerals and vitamins are useful for strengthening bones and efficient body functioning.

These nutrients are all available in plants with proportion varying with the part of the plant used for feeding cows.

Feeds should contain dry matter (DM) which is the portion that remaining after all water is removed from feeds.

It contains all nutrients and is used to determine quantity of nutrients provided to dairy cows. Feed intake (on DM basis) for maintenance of dairy cows can be estimated at three per cent of bodyweight.

Therefore a cow weighing 350 kilogrammes will need (350/100)*3= 10.5 kilogrammes of DM feeds. To allow for milk production we can use this formula: six kilogrammes + (body weight/100) + (milk yield/5).

A cow weighing 350 kilogrammes producing 15 kilogrammes of milk per day will need six kilogrammes + (350/100) + (15/5) = 12.5 kilogrammes DM feeds. From this quantity an allowance for at least 15 percent crude protein and 20 percent crude fibre should be provided.

Dry forages are a good source of crude fibre. Cows should have free access to water. If not available consider between four to six litres of water per kilogramme DM feeds.

Commonly used resources

Forages used as basal feeds are generally high in fibre and constitute bulk of feeds.

Green forages: pastures, Napier, maize forage, sorghum forage (DM = 20-25 percent).

Dry forages: cereal residues (DM= 80-90 percent).

Silage (DM=17-20 percent).

Treated crop residues (DM=42-50 percent).

Forages used

Green forages: lucerne, desmodium, calliandra, leucaena, etc. (DM=20-25 percent).

Dry forages: legumes and cereal residues (peas, beans, maize stalks, etc.) (DM=80-90 percent).

Harvesting forages

Napier grass: one metre high (height of panga) (three to four months).

Lucerne: when it begins to flower, cut at 5cm from the ground every five to seven weeks.

Maize and sorghum forage: at early bloom.

Value addition

Silage preserves nutritive value and increase forage production with limited available land. It can therefore be made in rainy season when forages are plenty in preparation of dry season when forages are scarce. Use 10 kilogrammes wilted Napier grass (or lucerne, maize, sorghum) chopped and mixed with one kilogramme of molasses in water and keep for 21 days in airtight sealed silage tube.

Urea treatment of cereal crop residues will improve on their digestibility and nutritive value. Sprinkle a mixture of 400 grammes of urea and five litres of water on 10 kilogrammes of chopped maize stovers (or wheat straws, or other cereal crop residues) and keep for 21 days incubation in airtight sealed silage tube. At feeding mix treated crop residues with molasses for improved palatability. Yeast cultures can also be added.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Feeding less nutrients can result in weak animals prone to diseases with poor body condition, low milk production and reproduction problems.

Feeds should contain dry matter (DM) which is the portion that  remains after all water is removed from feeds.

Dry forages are a good source of crude fibre.

At feeding mix treated crop residues with molasses for improved palatability.

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