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Pushed To The Limit, Modern Dairy Cows Need High-Quality Ingredients

The trend in the dairy industry of squeezing as much milk as possible from ever-larger dairy animals has some industry experts concerned, including the world-renowned Dr. Temple Grandin.

In a recent article, she described the situation as:

“What they’ve done is basically the equivalent of taking a car, putting it in neutral, and then dropping a brick on the accelerator until it blows up”.

Where I’ve worked in the past, the phrase “turn ‘em and burn ‘em” was used to describe the big dairies – putting each cow through about two big lactation cycles, then sending her out the door for sale if she can still be used for beef and is not too big to fit on the trailer.

It’s understandable to push efficiency considering how competitive the dairy market is now (I wrote about milk consumption trends and stories of dairy producers losing their milk contracts); however, it’s important to consider all of the options growers utilize that contribute to these industry trends.For example, past blogs have discussed using higher-quality soy meals, with high-quality by-pass protein, to support increased lactation in high-producing dairy animals, and also about ensuring adequate energy for lactation.

Some recent work by Penn State University highlighted another benefit of dry extruded/mechanically pressed soy meal – better rumen function.  Cattle and all ruminants are designed to eat grass and forages.  The rumen is a vast microbial fermentation vat that takes low-quality ingredients, like grass, and with the help of the rumen microbes, converts them into useful nutrients.  The dairy nutritionist is always trying to reduce amount of forages and increase concentrates (grains and grain by-products) to maximize performance – but this is not how these animals were designed to work.

The research findings, too numerous to discuss here in much depth, indicated that by simply choosing the higher-quality soy meal, various indicators of rumen function were enhanced – along with improved milk production.  Everything else was kept identical, meaning that all of the benefits were due to changing one ingredient in the formulation.

So, by using only one higher-quality ingredient – dry extruded/pressed soy meal – elevated performance per cow can be achieved while benefitting rumen function, body condition and health of these larger animals.