By Kevin Kouri, PMI product manager, dairy
Formulating a dairy cow diet is a lot like building a house. The foundation must be right for the rest of the house to be structurally sound.
Similarly, a diet’s macro-level nutrition must be right for micro-level nutrition, including dairy feed additives, to be beneficial. Feed additives should deliver a 3:1 return on investment (ROI) and have to be part of a carefully formulated diet to capture that value.
First, we need to understand how feed additives fit into the bigger picture.
Where dairy feed additives fit in the diet
Macro-ingredient selection helps meet clearly defined nutritional requirements as defined within Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS). Two simple examples: corn meets energy needs, and soybean meal helps meet protein needs. Micro-ingredients, including vitamins, minerals and amino acids, also help meet nutritional requirements. These ingredients have defined levels and measurable responses.
Other products that have less defined requirements and responses fall into the micro-ingredient category. Yeast, yeast cell wall, prebiotic and probiotic feed additives are just a few examples. These products make up a fraction of the diet but support big impacts on animal health and performance. However, they are only beneficial if foundational macro- and micro-ingredient needs are met based on the production requirements of the animal.
Many trials have proven the benefits of these less-defined feed additives. Here is one example from Jiang et al. published in 2017 in the Journal of Dairy Science. In any use of feed additives, the best responses come from animals that have a solid base diet, formulated with the appropriate macro-ingredients.
Formulating beyond macro-level
When formulating a diet beyond the macro-level, selection of micro-ingredients must be targeted and precise to deliver ROI.
For feed additives, define the challenge you’re trying to solve and ensure the additive solution is clear and measurable. Don’t get lost formulating with a stack of similar feed additives that deliver duplicate benefits. In some cases, stacking like technologies can also have a negative impact by over-stimulating the immune system. Each ingredient must have a defined purpose and deliver strong ROI. A good rule of thumb is that a feed additive should have at least a 3:1 ROI. When dairy margins are as tight as they have been in recent times, one could also argue an ROI of 5:1 on feed additive technologies.
Formulating with feed additives also requires some research analysis. Select dairy feed additives with research-proven results and defined modes of action.
Remember, if the macro-level nutrition isn’t right, the micro-level nutrition may be compromised. It’s critical to ensure macro-level nutrition is foundationally sound to capture the most ROI from feed additives.
Selecting feed additives for the challenge at hand
Dairy feed additives typically fall into one of three categories, each with a specific purpose:
• Optimizing components: Amino acids or fatty acids influence milk component levels for positive returns.
• Gut health: Yeast, yeast cell wall, prebiotics and probiotics support the gut and overall cow health.
• Therapeutic: Flow agents or acidifiers help minimize toxin challenges and maintain feed quality and hygiene, as well as cow performance.
A strategic blend of feed additives from multiple categories can deliver synergistic effects.
For example, when faced with a mycotoxin challenge, you could use prebiotics, probiotics and flow agents together to support rumen health and dry matter intake. Each additive in this example also has a standalone purpose and rationale for being in the diet. Prebiotics feed a cow’s gut microbes, probiotics balance the overall gut population and flow agents help remove the toxin from the animal. In the right combination, they work synergistically to deliver more value than they would alone.
No matter which feed additives you use in your formulation, make sure you revisit their effectiveness. Is the feed additive delivering what was planned? Are the results as expected? Are benefits being duplicated? If the feed additive is not delivering results or is duplicative, it’s time to adjust the ration.
Playing the long game
It can be tempting to remove feed additives from the ration once a challenge has been corrected, especially when margins are tight. However, it’s impossible to know the internal challenges (and damages) an animal is facing. The right feed additives can address these unseen challenges, making the consistent use of feed additives a wise choice, regardless of margin. If you use a feed additive for a few weeks and then remove it from the diet, you’ll lose the long-term benefits the additive is designed to provide.
Make sure you’re getting the planned results and that they’re paying off in cow health, milk production and milk components.
Want to fine-tune your dairy feed additive use? Connect with our team.
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