Combating poor rumen

“Actisaf definitely took the edge off the SARA issues…”

About This Project

High quality grazed grass lies at the heart of the 270-strong Friesian-based spring-block calving system Robert Sims runs at Holly Bank Farm, near Congleton in Cheshire. But there were a few signs that poor rumen function was affecting the cows.

“We noticed that dung was very loose and almost bubbly in appearance, and you could just tell from the way the cows stood, and even lay down, that they were a bit uncomfortable,” says Robert.

“We’ve all had stomach ache so can appreciate how these cows felt. We were worried that the high-quality forage was having an adverse effect on rumen pH, which in turn meant that cows were unable to take advantage of the high levels of protein and sugars in the grass. We wanted to find a way to stabilise and neutralise the pH to provide the right environment for the rumen microbes to do their work.”

The high average rainfall, free draining land and excellent grazing management means the farm regularly produces more than 12 tonnes DM/ha, in its best paddocks. Stephen Reade, the herd manager, constantly measures, analyses and manages the grass to ensure he’s putting the best forage in front of the cows.

“We start calving on February 1, and calve in a pretty tight 12-week block. We snatch the first bit of grazed grass as early as possible, putting cows out for a few hours when conditions allow, and bringing them back in when necessary,” explains Stephen. “Our 23 paddocks are a priority – they all have two access points and we have a good network of tracks across the farm.”

From turnout cows are buffer fed silage, depending on grass availability, and get 5.5 kg/cow of concentrate in the parlour. This drops to 4 kg as grass availability increases, and will reduce further to between 2-3 kg/ cow, after magic day, and once cows have been served.

“Cows need to be trained for grazing,” says Stephen. “We like to keep an edge to their appetites. Cows will go into a paddock at covers of about 2,800 – 2,900 kg of DM/ha, and remain there for three grazings, but I will return them to a paddock if we feel they haven’t reached the covers we’re after. The aim is for them to leave with covers at about 1,400 kg DM/ha. On average we’re asking our cows to eat 16 or 17 kg of DM/day from grazing.”

“We do ask a lot from our paddocks, particularly in the first round, and we may even be sacrificing a bit of milk production in this round, but I know it will set up the high-quality regrowth we need on this system,” Robert explains.

It was during a conversation about digestive problems linked to the high quality grass in the diet that Marshall Booth, from H J Lea Oakes, suggested using Actisaf® live yeast in the cows’ diet to improve rumen function. The cows have now been fed Actisaf® for a year and Robert has noticed some marked changes, particularly in their behaviour when ruminating. When concentrate levels fall to 2 kg/head after service, H J Lea Oakes incorporates a higher rate of Actisaf® through the mill to ensure cows receive the recommended 4g/day.

“I know it’s hard to quantify improved rumination but the cows just look more comfortable,” Robert explains. “We’ve also noticed that the consistency of the dung in the field has improved. In the autumn we dried off cows nearer condition score 3 rather than the 2.5 we reached the year before. I think that it is in part due to improved feed efficiencies – the cows are able to make more use of the feed that is passing through their bodies.

“We had a quite a poor first cut last year, due to the weather conditions, and I can’t help think that the Actisaf® in the cows’ diet has helped manage the high lactic acid in that as well. We are looking for a consistent environment for the rumen across the year, and the Actisaf® in the diet has helped us maintain that ‘even keel’ through both wet and dry grazing conditions, during mating and when the diet has changed.”