Time to look beyond total oil (Feed 4 Thought issue 11)
For too long, the fat content in diets has been assessed based on total oil content, but paying closer attention to the actual fatty acids in the diet will help improve feed efficiency and performance, as Mike Chown from UFAC-UK explains.
As we have understood more about the cow’s requirements and how feeds behave in the rumen and elsewhere in the digestive tract, so we have been able to formulate more precise, better performing diets.
For example, when looking at energy we know that we need a balance of starch, sugar and fibrous energy sources fermenting at different rates to optimise rumen function.
Similarly, no-one today would dream of rationing a cow on crude protein because we know much more about how protein is digested and can formulate for RDP, DUP and increasingly, for individual amino acids. By doing so we can more accurately provide what the cow needs.
With regards to oils and fatty acids, many ration programs and feed formulators are still content to just talk in terms of total oil, missing the point that different fatty acids deliver different benefits, while some can have negative impacts on animal performance.
Diet effectiveness and cow performance can both be improved if we go beyond total oil and look at the specific fatty acids.
Fat choice aids digestibility
For example, C18:1 Oleic acid is one of the good guys. It actually has a positive effect on the digestibility of the whole diet and therefore improves feed conversion. On the other hand if your diet contains C18:0, Stearic acid, as many proprietary fat products do, it will reduce the performance of the whole diet as C18:0 actually has a negative effect on total diet digestibility. If you formulate on total oil alone, you will not be maximising overall diet potential.
Similarly, the ratio of fatty acids is important. The optimum ratio of C16:0 to C18:1 will improve NDF fermentation in the diet and boost total energy available.
Finally, some fatty acids cannot be synthesised by the cow and so have to be fed, in particular the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which are linked to better reproductive performance and a stronger immune system. Total oil will not tell you whether or not you are feeding cows the essential omega 3 oils they require.
As farmers look to increase efficiency to improve margins, it will pay to look at the actual fatty acids fed as opposed to total oil levels.
Welcome from Robert Jones, MD
In a time of tremendous change and volatility I am reminded that it is important to focus on those things you can directly influence, rather than worrying about things outside your control.
As we move into the Brexit negotiations, the farming press is full of questions about the future of support payments, changing import tariffs and currency volatility among others. At the same time, we are seeing tightening of milk contracts and the specifications for beef carcases, with animals expected to finish younger while still grading out.
There is nothing farmers can do to influence this. Instead they need to focus on anything that will drive efficiency of production to allow a more robust and sustainable cost base which makes their business better able to meet whatever the politicians and markets decide.
For all ruminant farmers, the biggest single cost is feed, so feed efficiency should be high on the agenda. The skill will come in deciding what feed efficiency means to your business and understanding what you can do to improve it.
For dairy farmers it is about healthy, fertile, productive, profitable cows and fast growing heifer replacements. For beef farmers it is about hitting specification to maximise prices and margins.
The challenge is to identify and grasp the opportunities that are there in your system to drive efficiency. Our team is here to help deliver efficient and effective diets and we will be delighted to offer a second opinion on your dry, beef and heifer rations.
Still making progress four years on
In the first issue of Feed 4 Thought we visited the Robinson’s who farm near Tewkesbury and who had seen big benefits from fine tuning their system, working closely with Mike Chown from UFAC UK. Here, Mike updates on progress.
Richard and Neil run 200 cows which are fed TMR all year round with limited grazing in the summer and dairy compound in the parlour. The TMR is put through a diet feeder and put into troughs and round feeders using a skid steer loader. The cows are run as one milking group with two dry cow groups.
When I initially visited the farm there were a number of challenges. Cows were suffering excessive body condition loss in early lactation with extended negative energy balance reducing fertility. There were problems with acidosis and acid loading while a shortage of bypass protein was limiting yields.
To address the problems we replaced a proportion of rape and distillers in the TMR with Promega to increase DUP levels and to provide Omega 3 oils from marine sources to support fertility. Palm oil based fatty acids were replaced with Dynalac which is more highly digestible and rumen inert to increase energy supply and reduce the acidosis risk.
As a result, Neil saw increases in both peak and lactation yields as a result of increased conception rates. Cows held condition better despite reduced concentrate feed rates, while better rumen health meant buffers could be removed, saving an extra £300/ month.
Better energy balance
In the last three years, Neil has continued to see improvements with milk from forage increasing from 9 litres per cow per day to 13 litres with an average daily forage dry matter intake of 14kg/day. Yield per cow has risen from 9,500 litres to 10,300 litres despite an increased proportion of heifers in the herd now.
We are still feeding Dynalac and Promega and have recently added extra methionine to the Promega. With high forage diets, DUP and specific amino acids become limiting factors, methionine often being the first limiting amino acid. In early lactation cows use body fat and muscle as an energy source. To replace muscle turnover it is critical to feed adequate amino acids.
Neil comments that every time we give the cows higher quality ingredients they respond with extra yield and we have amended milking times to be 12 hours apart.
All the indicators show fresh calved cows are in better energy balance. Milk proteins are consistently higher while NMR fatty acid data show cows are in positive energy balance by 40 days in milk despite peaking at over 45 litres.
The results show the benefits of ensuring appropriate protein and dietary fatty acid supply to drive yield and fertility while increasing contribution from forage to control costs.
Fatty acids reduce impact on heat stress
On a really hot summers day you would probably feel less energetic and less inclined to eat as much as usual. As Mark Townsend from UFAC UK explains, cows are just the same and heat stress can be a real drain on performance.
Cows begin to suffer symptoms of heat stress as soon as the temperature is above 15°C (60°F), which means that virtually every day of the grazing season they will be affected. High humidity makes the effects of heat stress worse.
As soon as they start to suffer from heat stress there is a cascade effect which leads to reduced production, lower milk fat and a risk of poorer fertility. The first thing is that they become less active and have increased respiration rates.
How often do we see cows sheltering under trees and hedges trying to keep cool?
Because they are less active they will drink less and also eat less. The combination of reduced dry matter, total energy and water intakes will lead to lower yields so it is important to do what you can to reduce the effect of heat, and one simple action is to change the energy sources in the diet.
The rumen is a huge internal generator of heat as forages and cereals are fermented and heat is an unavoidable consequence, contributing to the negative effects of heat stress on cows.
On the other hand, highly digestible rumen-inert fatty acids that have a balanced fatty acid profile, are digested in the small intestines with no heat being produced. In addition, highly digestible fatty acids have at least twice the energy content of cereals meaning they can boost the energy content of the overall diet. Rumen-inert fatty acids also help reduce the risk of SARA and acidosis.
Replacing cereals with Omega Cream can reduce the heat of digestion and so reduce the heat load on cows. Also, by increasing the energy density of the diet they can lessen the impact of any reduction in dry matter intakes and lower the overall consequences of heat stress.
Omega cream delivers all round benefits
Feeding a proven balanced source of rumen inert fatty acids can help improve all the key measures of dairy performance and boost the immune system.
Dairy farmers want high yields of milk with excellent compositional quality produced from healthy and fertile cows. Feeding a proven, balanced combination of fatty acids can help achieve all of these.
Omega cream is a unique combination of rumen-inert essential fatty acids derived from highly digestible fatty acids, C16:0 fatty acid, omega 3 oils from marine sources, specially formulated for cows in early lactation.
It increases overall energy supply by providing essential fatty acids plus C16:0 fatty acid to boost milk yield and butterfat content. The addition of C18:1 fatty acid in the blend increases the overall feed efficiency ensuring cows make the most of the total diet.
The inclusion of glycerine has a direct effect on fatty acid digestion and absorption. It is also an efficient precursor of glucose, the most important energy source for milking cows. Feeding glycerine helps reduce body condition loss in early lactation and helps get cows cycling sooner.
Omega Cream is also high in the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. As they are from marine sources they are the most effective source of omega 3 available. These oils have a number of beneficial effects.
The first is that they are known to have a direct effect on fertility, ensuring higher quality follicles, leading to stronger eggs which result in increased bulling activity.
They also reduce prostaglandin and increase progesterone. This leads to reduced embryo losses and increased pregnancy rates. The second is that they help boost the immune system and improve overall health and efficiency which can also improve fertility.
Talking at the recent Total Dairy conference, Dr Paul Fricke from the University of Wisconsin explained that cows with clinical mastitis or high cell counts have poorer conception rates, so maintaining an effective immune system is vital if you want good fertility.
Omega Cream is designed to allow your cows to perform to their potential and deliver outstanding all round performance.
Megajule helps improve beef finish
With the ongoing requirement for lower finished carcass weights, increasing the proportion of rumen-inert fatty acids in the diets of finishing beef cattle can have a significant impact on growth rates and carcase grading as David Bonsall of UFAC UK explains.
“Many dairy farmers have moved into keeping a few beef cattle to maximise the value of the calf crop and give a secondary income stream,” David comments. “To improve margins it will be essential to ensure animals finish quickly and hit the specification for age, weight and fat class. Diet is fundamental to achieving these.”
He explains that while all beef producers understand the importance of increasing energy intakes in the finishing period, fewer appreciate the importance of feeding a balance of energy sources, particularly the crucial role of fatty acids.
The table shows ration guidelines for growing and finishing cattle. In the later finishing stages, it is essential to increase the energy density of the diet to allow higher growth rates to be maintained from larger animals. Alongside higher sugars, starch and reduced protein, EBLEX specifically recommend increasing from a maximum 3% fat content in the diets for rearing cattle, to a maximum of 6% for finishing animals.
In most cases farmers meet the guidelines of increasing the proportion of starches and sugars while reducing the crude protein content. However, fewer appreciate the benefits of increasing the dietary fat content.
“With finishing weights being reduced, we hear that many farmers are struggling to get cattle to finish on high starch diets. At the same time, higher starch brings an increased risk of acidosis which will reduce dry matter intakes and growth rates. The correct fat sources can have a tremendous role to play here.
David explains that fatty acids are higher in energy than any other feed ingredient for beef diets, with over two and a half times the net energy content of cereals, and so will increase energy density. When rumen-inert fatty acids are used there is no rumen acid loading, meaning they support higher total energy and dry matter intakes.
“The target energy density for rearing animals is 10.5-11.4MJ/kgDM, while for finishers it should be in excess of 12.2MJ/kgDM. Rumen-inert fatty acids like Megajule mean this can be achieved cost-effectively without compromising rumen health.
“Rumen–inert fatty acids are utilised in the small intestine. Megajule contains C18:1 Oleic acid, which increases the efficiency of digestion of the whole diet in the small intestine, improving overall feed efficiency and supporting higher feed conversion.”
David says the other benefit is that increasing the levels of dietary fat will improve the level of carcass grading. While there is less demand for marbling, processors still require a level of sub-cutaneous fat. He explains that for carcase finish, fat in equals fat out.
“Feeding a higher level of dietary fat leads to a better carcass grading, which combined with faster growth rates and reduced days to slaughter can have significant financial benefits.”
All round benefits
UFAC Megajule is a unique blend of specially selected rumen-inert fatty acids, which is perfect for beef cattle. It contains the essential fatty acids C18:2 Linoleic, C18:3 Linolenic, plus EPA and DHA from marine sources along with C18:1 Oleic acid, which ensure a balanced fatty acid profile to maximise feed conversion, DLWG and total energy supply. Megajule is a palatable, friable meal, which can reduce dust from processed cereals and is ideal for inclusion in all diets.
“In a finishing diet, include 100g of Megajule per 100kg liveweight, reducing cereals by a similar amount. So, for a 500kg animal, 500g of Megajule should be fed with cereals reduced by 500g. The impact on cost would be around 23p/day, assuming cereals are costed at £130/tonne. “For a 90 day finishing period, the additional cost is around £20/animal but this will soon be recovered by reduced days to slaughter, better feed conversion and improved carcase grade. With seven days less but this will soon be recovered by reduced days to slaughter, better feed conversion and improved carcase grade. With seven days less to slaughter and a 5p/kg lift in price received, which are both realistic expectations, the increased income will be around £30 for a 340kg animal, giving a 50% return on investment,” David predicts.
Controlled frame growth
Short period on max DLWG
|Dry matter intake||2.3% of bodyweight||2% of bodyweight|
|Crude protein rate in DM||14-16%||12-15%|
|Energy content (ME in DM)||10.5-11.4MJ/kgDM||>12.3MJ/kgDM|
|Fibre (NDF) content in DM||>40%||>25%|
|Fat content in DM||<3%||<6%|
|Starch and sugars||<20%||>33%|