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Selko | Dairy Performance


Making dairy farming sustainable by improving feed efficiency of dairy cattle

Key strategies for improving feed efficiency and milk production of dairy cows by Dr. José E.P. Santos, Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida

Assessing feed efficiency and its impacts on dairy cows

During a recent webinar on April 22, Professor Santos from the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida discussed how to calculate feed efficiency of dairy cows, how it can be improved and how feed efficiency impacts dairy performance.

The importance of improving feed efficiency on a dairy farm

Milk production of dairy cows is increasing year after year. Feed efficiency of dairy cattle can be influenced by:

  • Genetic selection
  • Nutritional tools
  • Management

Over the years, dairy cows have become bigger and have a higher feed intake.

Figure 1: Relation between energy requirements for maintenance and production and milk yield of dairy cows.

Nutrient partition of dairy cows

The average milk production of dairy cows is still increasing year after year. As a result, the ratio between energy required for maintenance and energy required for production is also changing over time (see Figure 1).

To improve the proportion of feed energy captured in milk, two options exist (see Figure 2):

  • Increase milk production relative to maintenance
  • Increase the conversion of gross energy of feed to net energy of feed
Figure 2: energy partition of dairy cows

Gross feed efficiency of dairy cows can be calculated as the yield of energy-corrected milk per kg of DM consumed.

This does however not account for changes in body energy (loss or gain of body tissue). As a result, early lactation cows have inflated values. It also relies on dilution of maintenance.

Residual feed intake (RFI) of dairy cows can be calculated as the deviation from the expected intake after accounting for the energy required for milk synthesis, maintenance, tissue accretion or loss and adjusted for the cohort. By default, more efficient cows are expected to have the same production and body tissue changes compared with less efficient cows.

Simply increasing yield of ECM improves gross feed efficiency, but improvement decrease as intake increases.

Feed efficiency of dairy cows is a key driver of dairy farm profitability

Feeding IntelliBond trace minerals improves digestibility of fibre in the diet, enabling cows to produce more milk out of the same amount of feed.

Learn more about how Selko IntelliBond helps to improve fibre digestibility to optimize performance

Selko | solutions based on science

Increase your milk production by improving fibre digestibility

Contact your local Selko IntelliBond representative for more information

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Figure 3: reduction of amino acid hepatic flux in steers without or with an Intratracheal challenge with M. haemolytica.

Examples of factors influencing feed efficiency

Health status

Systemic inflammation reduces feed efficiency. In a trial with steers, one group of animals was subject to an intra-tracheal challenged with 1 x 109 CFU of Mannheimia haemolytica at hour 0 and compared to untreated controls. The challenge resulted in a strong reduction of influx of amino acids into the liver of these animals (see Figure 3).

Figure 4: ratio between milk production (ECM/day) and dry matter intake (kg/day) of the best and worse 25% cows in a herd of 851 dairy cows.

Diet formulation

Many examples of diet formulations with an impact on feed efficiency exist. A clear example is the inclusion of rumen bypass fats in a dairy ration. Inclusion of rumen bypass fat at a level up to 3% resulted in an increase of feed efficiency of 0.08 kg of ECM per kg of DMI.

Improving the animal’s intrinsic ability to utilize nutrients

If the residual feed intake (RFI) of a dairy cow improves, the feed costs per kg of milk produced will go down. The RFI between the 25% best and 25% worse cows in a herd differs greatly (see Figure 4). The most efficient cows also had a better fertility.

It is possible to select for RFI. Expect an average drop in 23 kg of BW in the next 10 years. Selection for RFI will result in efficient cows with a moderate body size. Selecting for larger animals does not favor milk yield.

Download more research and documentation

You can access all of our documentation about Selko protocols, sustainable dairy farming and latest research insights.

Improving fibre digestibility to optimize performance

Feed efficiency in dairy cows can be defined as kg of Energy Corrected Milk (ECM) per kg of dry matter consumed. Feed efficiency in lactating cows can vary from <1.3 to >2.0. There are a number of factors that have an impact on feed efficiency but improving digestibility of feed can have a huge impact on feed efficiency.

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Find out more about dairy performance...