Feed the cow, reap the milk
January 09, 2004

Does a cow give more milk because she eats more, or does she eat more because she gives more milk? Unlike the question pertaining to the chicken and the egg, this one has an answer, and it has a lot to do with how productive the dairy herd will be, according to Tony Rickard, dairy specialist with University of Missouri Outreach and Extension.

"Research shows that each pound of dry matter intake above a dairy cow's maintenance requirements will result in a production response of two to three pounds of milk. That makes it pretty clear that intake drives milk production," said Rickard.

While dairy cows in the Ozarks typically consume 3.5 to 4 percent of their bodyweight, Rickard says producers may be setting their sights too low. For example, a few years ago a dairy cow in Indiana produced over 60,000 pounds of milk and she was consuming over 5.3 percent of her body weight as dry matter.

"If that cow was capable of consuming that much feed, why don't we see that here in the Ozarks? The answer is, her owners worked hard to achieve that consumption level," said Rickard.

If a producer wants to increase the dry matter intake of their dairy cows, there are several different factors to consider. One of the most important factors is the quality of the forage fed.

"Intake is inversely related to neutral detergent fiber levels in the forage so it is critical that the forage have a relative feed value (RFV) of 150 or better since RFV is an indication of fiber levels. Values less than this will result in a higher fiber level in the rumen, but will be achieved at less intake," said Rickard.

Other factors to consider include providing adequate feed, ensuring the feed is fresh, feeding more often, providing adequate bunk space, cooling the cattle during the summer, providing windbreaks during the winter and having an adequate water supply close to the feed.

In a confinement system, water should be located within 50 feet of the feed bunk and in a grazing system cows should not walk more than 600 feet to a water source.

For more information on improving your dairy herd, contact Rickard at (417)847-3161.

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