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How to improve the intake of dairy cows?

Posted on: November 29, 2019, by Victoria

Over-feeding density limits feeding space and rest space, which hurts rumination time.

By ensuring that dairy cows maintain adequate nutritional intake to meet their needs, we can safeguard health and improve milk production. Therefore, the precise formulation and a high-quality diet are indispensable.

Unfortunately, dairy cows do not always get the most nutritional value of their diets. Through feeding and digestion, dairy cows may not have enough feed or get all available nutrients from the feed. These problems may be directly related to behavior - especially the intake and ruminant behavior of dairy cows.

dairy cows
Dairy cows

Intake time is important
The feeding pattern of dairy cows is directly related to their feed intake and digestibility. The feed intake of dairy cows is a function of their feeding behavior; that is to say, the total feed intake of a dairy cow is the calculation result of the number of daily feeding and each feeding intake.

Similarly, feed intake is a function of the total time a cow consumes per day multiplied by the speed at which it consumes the feed. Therefore, if a cow wants to eat more feed, it needs to adjust some aspects of its feeding behavior. In the study of the University of Guelph, the results have proved that high-yielding dairy cows prefer the principle of "eat less in more meals" and go to the feeding trough several times to prolong the feeding time, which is more consistent with more intake and higher milk production.

This feeding method is also conducive to the health and function of the rumen. Maximizing feeding time and eating less in more meals is also important for maintaining rumen stability, thereby improving fiber digestibility and milk fat content.

The ability of dairy cows to devote enough time to rumination should not be neglected. When cows ruminate, feed particles break down into smaller particles. This not only allows rumen microorganisms to digest feed better but also helps to remove digested substances from the rumen.

The faster the digested feed is removed from the rumen, the more feed the cows can eat. Therefore, dairy cows have enough rumination time to help them maximize their ability to improve their intake.

Besides, when cows chew, their mouth produces saliva containing large amounts of bicarbonates, which help to stabilize the rumen pH value. Therefore, promoting chewing through rumination can further maintain the stability of the rumen environment.

Dairy cows
Dairy cows

The feed is always present in the feeding trough
How to ensure that the feeding time and rumination time of dairy cows are unrestricted? It starts with a balanced feed formulation to meet the production needs of dairy cows. This includes sufficient effective fibers to reduce feeding rates and increase rumination time.

Also, we need to ensure that dairy cows are free to eat throughout the day and stimulate their desire to eat, and have enough time and willingness to ruminate.

To promote good feeding behavior of dairy cows, the first thing we need to do is to ensure adequate food supply at any time of the day. Empty trough, in any period, may not only limit the intake but also cause cows to change their feeding patterns. If dairy cows are found unable to feed at any time, they will subsequently eat excessive feed, which is detrimental to rumen digestion.

What we need to do next is to encourage cows to go to the feeding trough several times a day for feeding. Partly driven by hunger, but mainly related to feeding quality. The sooner dairy cows digest the feed they eat (due to the higher digestibility of the feed), the sooner they return to the feeding trough for feeding.

We also know that feeding behavior can be stimulated, including milking and feeding. A series of studies have shown that providing fresh feed is the most effective way to encourage dairy cows to eat. Contrast experiments showed that feeding more than once a day could promote the above-mentioned favorable feeding patterns, and the results showed that it could improve digestive efficiency and milk fat content.

Frequent feeding is also important during the two feeding periods. This will ensure that as long as the cows go to the feeding trough, there will always be a feed supply. From a practical point of view, feed push needs to be carried out regularly, so frequently that cows will not respond to this matter. When push feed, most cows rush to the feeding trough, which means they haven't eaten feed for a long time, suggesting that you need to increase the pushing frequency.

It is noteworthy that in our study we also found a correlation between longer lying time and more frequent feed push. This indicates that frequent feed push can minimize the time wasted by dairy cows standing aimlessly (feeding, drinking, lying down or milking).

Dairy cows
Dairy cows

Feeding space and rest space
In the case of group feeding, the feed intake may also be affected by the feeding density. When the feeding density is too excessive, not all dairy cows can eat at the same time because the feeding trough space is insufficient, and the cows will change their original feeding mode. This will lead cows to feed more and more quickly each time, which is not conducive to better digestion of feed in the rumen.

Therefore, our goal should be to provide adequate feeding space so that all cows can eat comfortably at the same time. This is particularly important for perinatal dairy cows. Lack of adequate feeding space will not only change feeding habits but also increase the possibility that dairy cows will not be able to eat enough feed, thereby increasing the risk of metabolic diseases and infectious diseases in the postpartum period.

Ruminant time mainly depends on dietary composition and feed intake, but it may also be related to other factors affecting daily behavior patterns of dairy cows. The longest ruminant time per day occurs during animal rest (lying down). Most ruminants usually occur during the nighttime rest of dairy cows. The rest of ruminants usually occur at noon of the day, which happens to be the rest period between milking, feeding and drinking activities.

Any disturbance to the normal rest time of dairy cows may limit their ability to ruminate adequately, leading to a reduction in feed intake and milk production, so we need not be surprised. Maximizing rest time is the key factor to improve rumination time. To ensure adequate rest time, bed size must be appropriate so that cows can lie down and stand up unhindered. Comfortable bedding mattresses are equally important.

Besides, in group feeding (including overfeeding density and frequent herding), minimizing heat stress and restricting social stress are also conducive to promoting full rumination of dairy cows.

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