Author: John Bass
The time of year has come once again to start planning for the coming winter, and with that, decisions need to be made on winter diets and mineral supplementation. The best way to start is by undertaking a nutrient and mineral analysis on silage in order to make a plan on what supplementation is needed to balance the feed value and also any mineral shortfalls. Results of silage analysis so far this season have indicated that quality is mixed, with a lot of June cut silage lacking in dry matter digestibility (DMD) as well as protein and energy. This is a result of large crops of grass being cut at a later growth stage due to unfavourable weather conditions.
After balancing the protein and energy requirements to meet the animal’s needs i.e., milking cows or dry stock, it is vital that we look at the mineral requirements of each animal to get the correct level of macro and micronutrients. The intensity of livestock farming has increased a lot in recent years especially in the dairy herd. This has led to a lot of silage being cut off out-farms, often too far to draw dung and slurry, meaning land is becoming depleted of key nutrients and minerals. The result is silage that is very low in minerals.
There are many ways to feed mineral supplements, however unfortunately, the most convenient methods for the farmer aren’t always the most beneficial to the animal. For example, dusting on top of the feed is simple, however lack of adequate feed space and dominance within the herd can mean that some animals will take in a lot more than others. Therefore, it is important to mix powder minerals through the feed to ensure a constant and regulated intake by each animal. This also goes for block-based molasses or salt licks as intakes will vary depending on the product and the availability to the animal, leading to an over or undersupply to certain animals, which can negatively impact on health and vigour.
The most reliable way to feed minerals is to mix through concentrated feeds. This is especially the case with macronutrients, while topping up micronutrients using boluses or doses ensures each animal is receiving the recommended supply. It is also important to feed the right levels of certain minerals at certain times especially with calving cows. E.g. Supply high magnesium (Mg) pre-calving and high calcium (Ca) post-calving to help avoid milk fever.
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