“With our well-draining soils and good annual rainfall, it is important for us to make the best possible use of the high-quality grass that grows here. It’s the most cost-effective feed there is, but not when feeding it comes at the expense of rumen function,” says Richard.
As the percentage of grazed grass in the cows’ diet has risen in recent years, Richard has had to become skilled in managing what that means for rumen function. Historically some cows had issues with body condition score loss when they went out to grass, and Richard noticed the dung was loose and almost ‘fizzy’ in appearance.
“I felt rumen performance wasn’t as good as it could be and knew we needed to do something to help the rumen utilize the fermentable sugars in the grass and make the best possible use of the protein,” explains Richard.
“I also think diet consistency is crucial for the cows. The dry matter and nutrient content of grass differ widely from day to day. I want to know I’m managing the peaks and troughs effectively.”
Marshall Booth, from HJ Lea Oakes, suggested that Richard thinks about feeding Actisaf® live yeast in the ration in order to ensure rumen stability, and in spring 2015 Richard began to include Actisaf® in his grazing concentrate.
“The high level of sugars in grass is beneficial for milk yields and solids, but excessive sugars and low fibre can affect rumen function,” explains Marshall Booth.
“Grass high in sugars is rapidly fermented by rumen microbes, which can lead to a decrease in rumen pH. Added to this, low grass fibre levels limit rumen scratch factor, which can reduce rumination, saliva flow and ultimately rumen buffering, all of which contribute to the decline in rumen pH. Low rumen pH can lead to the development of acidosis.”
Since the inclusion of Actisaf® in the diet Richard has noticed that the dung has firmed up, cows are keeping condition score well at grass and milk yields are creeping up.
Richard’s cows are split evenly between spring and autumn calving blocks, with an average yield across both parts of the herd of 7,200 litres/cow/year. He feels that optimising rumen function at crucial times like mating is key to fertility success.
“The spring block begins to calve around the second week in February and go out to graze as soon as conditions allow, and when there is a decent sized group ready,” explains Richard. Cows are then fed between 4-6kg of concentrate per day, until grazing conditions allow it to be dropped to around 2.5kg to 3kg.
The autumn block starts calving at the beginning of September and are fed to yield in the parlour, as well as whole crop and grass or grass silage, amounts again depending on grass availability.
“During mating, we AI for only five or six weeks, and we need to know that cows are performing well at this time. Putting Actisaf® into the diet has meant we’re confident of the rumen function and performance, and this is reflected in our 95% submission rate,” says Richard.
“We run a simple system here, which is pretty reliant on high-quality grazing. The inclusion of Actisaf® means I’m now confident that the cows’ rumens are stable enough to utilise the grass in their diets efficiently,” he concludes.