oa Agriprobe - Ways to improve the feed efficiency in dairy cows : Elsenburg Journal

Volume 12, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1810-9799



The feed efficiency of dairy cows is important because of the relationship between cow efficiency and income over feed cost. Gross feed efficiency is defined as the ratio between feed used to produce a certain amount of milk. Herd efficiency could also be estimated for the total herd output vs. the total production cost. This could comprise of the herd's total milk, fat or protein yield, total beef production and sales of surplus heifers and bulls for breeding. Comparing the feed efficiency of cows between breeds and farms is difficult as a number of factors affect production. This should only be considered within similar production systems, breeds, lactation number (age) and lactation stage. When comparing breeds, milk yield should be corrected to a similar level, i.e. energy or fat corrected milk yield. To estimate feed efficiency, an indication of feed intake is required. In a zero-grazing system feed intake could be determined by weighing the amount of feed provided on a daily basis. To be correct, the refusals of a specific day's feed allocation should also be weighed back the following day as usually in these systems, feed is provided in excess of the daily feed requirement to ensure an ad libitum intake. For pasture-based systems supplemental feeds, such as concentrate and hay or silage, should be determined on a daily basis. Pasture intake should be determined from the pasture available before grazing and residual pasture after grazing. It is incorrect to use a standard pasture intake for cows under all pasture production systems. Feed efficiency is therefore a complex trait and its definition requires clear descriptions. Some suggest that total output in terms of farm income versus total cost is the best way to define efficiency. However, improving efficiency of different parts of the dairy herd could make a major contribution towards improving the total efficiency of a farm. In this paper considerations for improving feed efficiency in dairy cows will be discussed.

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