Buffer feeding

Published 23 August 10

Article date: August 2010
Dry conditions and concerns over pasture availability for silage have meant many farmers have buffer fed cows this summer. Adam Clay, DairyCo extension officer in Staffordshire and Cheshire, talks about some of the issues surrounding buffer feeding.

"Buffer feeding fulfils two main roles," explains Adam. "Firstly, buffer feeding forages and moist feeds can help overcome grass shortages when the cover drops due to a problem such as drought, or if quality drops due to seasonal performance. In the same way it can help you 'space out' grazing and manage a restricted amount of grass, for example when shutting some pasture up for silage.

"Buffer feeding forages has no role to play when grazing supplies are adequate as they directly replace grazed grass with more expensive ensiled or purchased forages.

"Secondly buffer feeding is a recognised practise for high yielding cows if they are unable to meet maintenance and yield requirements from grazed grass alone. Supplement feeding concentrates helps by increasing the nutrient density of the grazed grass diets to sustain higher levels of milk output," says Adam.

"Of course the trick when doing that is to maximise the production response while minimising the pasture intake reduction. And similarly with buffer feeding forages, the aim is to maximise production from what pasture is available at the time.

"One of the ways to do this, in either case is by making sure cows go out to grass with an edge on their appetite.  In a 24 hour period cows will graze for only 41% of that time so make sure you are giving the cows access to grass at the right times and then bring them in to supplement feed at other times.

"If you are having problems with pasture availability send cows out to grass with an edge on their appetite and graze a small area. Get the grass down to the right level and then bring them in to receive some supplemental feed before the next milking. "

Adam continues: "Research at Moorepark in Ireland shows that 97% of grazing intake happens in two three hours slots in a 24 hour period. The key grazing times are morning and evening. The cows we have in this country are still very much the sisters of those that graze on the savannahs of Africa. They tend not to graze at night as they will stick close together in a herd for safety, so they are particularly hungry in the morning.

"Buffer feeding should be a flexible activity and you should be able to change the amount your cows are being buffer feed on an almost daily basis," Adam suggests. "Let your grass tell you when to buffer. If cows are leaving residual grass in the field, stop completely or reduce the amount they are being buffer fed.

"Let the dry matter (DM) of grass also influence when you buffer feed. At 22% DM the fresh grass requirement for cows is 73kg a day, but when DM falls to 16% the cow requires a 100kg of fresh grass a day (see chart).  This intake is not possible so supplement will be required to maintain production. So keep your eye on the weather and the condition of your pasture in order to have a good understanding of its DM content and supplement accordingly," he concludes.  

Fresh Grass Requirements at Different DM Contents

buffer feeding table

Article in All things dairy, August 2010 issue

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