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Some suggestions to be proactive in a difficult forage year

12 July 2018

Some suggestions to be proactive in a difficult forage year

With less than 20% of normal rainfall falling in the South West in June, we see ourselves in a situation not seen for many years. They tell me it’s getting like 1976!!! Following one of the wettest and for most, longest winters seen for years.
Most forage supplies were depleted this spring with many farmers either feeding all their silage or selling any surplus to help a neighbour out or help cashflow. 1st cuts were generally good but not heavy and 2nd cuts have been the same. One customer said he cut 3rd cut 24 days after 2nd because the ryegrass was going to head.
In these circumstances there are a few practical things that can be done to reduce the stress now and alleviate potential winter shortages.

Cull any barren or lame cows which are not contributing enough to the milk tank,

Manage the dry matter intake drop in cows as the primary goal in keeping them right, this maybe by feeding more forage if it can be sourced. Wholecrop if possible or consider hay to add a few kg to the diet. A lot of good hay has been made in recent weeks, buying hay in at 85% DM for around £130/tonne might not be expensive this winter, when winter stocks have been preserved.

Try to stick to a rotation rather than eating out as when it does rain, grass needs grass to grow and recover quickly. Protect residuals from over grazing, take cows off onto a sacrifice paddock if you risk grazing below 1500kgDM/ha.
Planning and budgeting is an essential part, measuring existing stocks to calculate how much is in store and how much is needed. Measure silage clamp quantity by lengthxwidthxheight= cubic metres of silage x 180kgDM/cubis metre and then work back into fresh weight.
Bales will vary, take a silage sample to get an indication of dry matter and then weigh some to indicate the amount of feed available.
If rain comes at the end of next week, there is a chance a late cut of grass can be taken in Sepetmber and possibly a further cut in October/November.

If you are unsure whether to take cereals as wholecrop or been offered standing maize, take it. Good cereal crops at £600/acre will work out cheaper per tonne DM than most moist feeds.
Sugarbeet pulp going into the winter may also be restricted so booking early will be essential, if your unsure whether to commit, do it.
Planting a crop of fodder kale will enable youngstock to stay out later and reduce the need for forage and bedding in the Autumn.

If you require help with forage planning please give the office a call on 01395 239995.

Germinal Seed Products are now available from FeedCo

12 June 2018

Germinal flyer (002)

Why are Amino Acids important?

3 May 2018

Why are Amino Acids important?

Cows need amino acids to maximise milk protein output as both litres and solids. Litres have always been king, yet increasingly milk companies are looking for higher milk protein levels and contracts are being implemented to encourage this. In order to ‘milk the contract’, we need to understand how milk protein levels can be increased, one way is to better understand the relationship between crude protein and the amino acid profile. Amino acid balancing has the potential to improve milk component and milk production, improve protein utilization and lessen dairy’s environmental impact.

Building Blocks of Protein

Protein is one of the key nutrients dairy cows need for optimal growth, milk components and milk production, reproduction and immunity.

Amino acids are the building blocks of peptides which are formed to create proteins and therefore one of the best ways to improve protein utilisation efficiency is by effective management of the amino acid profile.

The cow absorbs and uses individual amino acids rather than protein. She does not have a protein requirement but rather an individual requirement for each of the 20 amino acids at certain levels. Think of it like money – those annoying times when you have a tenner but need a pound coin for a car park machine. The pound coin is like the essential amino acid, you must have the correct one to proceed, and protein production by the cow is limited by the particular amino acid that is in shortest supply in the same way.

How do we know which Amino Acid is limiting?

Lots of research has helped direct good amino acid nutrition, this science has well established that the first limiting in milk production are the essential amino acids Methionine and Lysine. Lots of this work has been done at Cornell University so powering the rationing tools making this science practically and economically effective in our hands on farm.

Amino Acid Good Sources

Methionine Rapeseed meal, Rumen Protected Methionine, Fish meal when that was available.

Lysine Hi Pro Soya, Rumen Protected Lysine, again Fish meal was a good source

These essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by the cow, and consequently they must be delivered in the diet. Inadequate levels of these two essential building blocks for protein synthesis mean that milk components and milk production suffer.

So just put lots in then?

Often in an attempt to ensure that neither methionine or lysine is limiting in the diet crude protein is overfed to ‘flood’ the diet with amino acids blunderbuss style. Not only is this expensive, it can fail if the choice of feeds does not supply the amino acid balance that is required, so limiting production and wasting the non-limiting amino acids fed in excess. When urea is fed to increase the crude protein of the diet it must be known that it contains zero amino acids. All excess protein in diets ends up in the slurry pit as essentially expensive fertiliser, and this is the environmental concern of high protein feeding.

Accurate ration formulating matches supply with requirements, using directed amino acid nutrition where the balance of proteins is rationed for, and a favourable outcome is much more reliable. That outcome is maximising milk protein output through both litres and percentage solids. The tools to do this are available so please speak to us to find out more.

Improving Yields from Chop Lengths

20 March 2018

Improving Yields from Chop Lengths



Grass silage is the main winter feed for dairy farmers, getting this right will help increase milk yields. There are a few key things to get right when making grass silage, stage of growth, grass ley, sunlight, wilting, chop length, and silage additive. If you get most of these things right you will get good grass silage.

Research has found that shorter chop length will increase milk yields, this is because cows will increase intakes and they will decrease sorting. FeedCo would recommend chopping grass forage to 18-20mm. With this average length there will be enough longer particles over 20mm, without getting too long so lowering intakes and risking sorting. For reference a 5 pence piece is 19mm.

David Moore runs the family farm with his children Robert, Lewis and Meredith, at West Moor Farm, near Woolsery. West Moor is home to 300 head of dairy cows in a housed system, and milked twice a day. David runs the farm as a flying herd as well as helping with the family contracting business. Robert is the herdsmen and takes pride in looking after all the cows. Lewis feeds all the animals on the farm and has currently updated to a Keenan feeder wagon with the pace software. Meredith looks after all calves and helps out milking.

Since December 2016 Adam Sanders FeedCo nutritionist has been working alongside the Moore family to help increase animal performance. Cows are currently averaging 32L at 4.1 butterfat and 3.3 protein, and have just reached the impressive milestone of a rolling annual average of 10,000 litres sold/cow. Cows are fed with a Keenan feeder wagon and are topped up with cake in out of parlour feeders. The TMR ration consists of grass silage, maize silage, and home-grown cereal, balanced with a FeedCo blend.



Moore’s cows are up by one thousand litres per cow on annual average, and a significant factor in this improvement was the move to reduce chop length on their grass silage – the forager was set at 15mm which produced average chop length in the 15-20mm range recommended by FeedCo. First cut was started on the 8th May no earlier or later than usual, second cut silage followed six weeks later.  Feeding 2016’s maize silage ended in June and it was replaced with ground grain maize, this year’s crop was cut on the 13th October. Shorter chop length at Westmoor has created superior and sustained forage intakes throughout the year. The result of this has been to minimize the effect of forage changes, allowing cows to thrive in the consistency that brings higher milk yields.

FeedCo would like to congratulate the Moore’s on their milestone brought about by impressive attention to detail and dedication. We also really want to encourage farmers, as another forage season fast approaches, to plan to chop their forage to 18-20mm to improve cow performance.



Feedco Launch New Milk Powder Range

23 January 2018

FeedCo Launch New Milk Powder Range

From the beginning FeedCo has emphasised on nutritional formulations and quality ingredients at good value prices and therefore when the new milk powder range was being designed and formulated, the same core values have been continued.

The FeedCo milk replacer range includes two skim-based (Ultra Skim 60% and High Skim 33%), and one whey based powder (High Whey).

– Ultra Skim 60%, is a market-leading 60% skim milk powder with highly digestible all dairy protein allowing maximum growth in dairy heifers. This has shown to maximise 1st lactation yields.

– High skim 33%, a skim based milk powder suitable for all types of calf rearing systems including computerised machines with high levels of dairy protein promoting rapid early growth.

– High whey, highly digestible sources of energy and protein for calf rearing systems utilising whey based calf milk replacers.

The FeedCo milk replacer range are made up of carefully selected high quality raw materials providing excellent mixing, digestibility, reassurance and safety during the crucial pre-weaning period.  The attractive taste encourages high palatability and eager consumption enhancing early growth rates.  All FeedCo calf milk replacers contain a gut conditioning package to accelerate the development of the immature gut.

When it comes to selecting calf milk replacer, producers should look at the full picture including price and label but also what suits the calves on your farm.

Please contact your local FeedCo nutritionist for calf feeding advice or contact the office on (01395) 239995.

Nutrition of the Ewe - Weaning to Lambing

2 January 2018

As we truly enter into the winter months, sheep farmers among us will naturally begin to prepare for lambing season. Some farm systems may have already started lambing and others will certainly be getting the ewes ready for the New Year.  Regardless of when you lamb your sheep, correct ewe nutrition throughout the year is critical for quality production.

Underfeeding and overfeeding both have negative impacts on productivity, so ensuring that you calculate ewe requirements at certain times during the shepherd’s year is very important.  The first step to this is knowing whether your sheep are fat, fit or thin at specific stages of the production cycle.  This can be done using the five-point body condition scoring system described by AHDB (https://beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/brp_l_Sheep_BCS_190713.pdf).  Body condition score (BCS) your ewes at weaning, tupping, mid-pregnancy (usually scanning) and lambing.  This allows you to assess which ewes require what in terms of nutritional demand.  As a rule, one BCS in a ewe equates to about 10% of live weight; so for a 70kg ewe to gain one BCS, she needs to put on 7kg of weight. It can take up to 8 weeks for a ewe to gain this much weight on good grazing as her daily energy requirement will be around 15.4 Megajoules(MJ) equating to around 1.54kg of grass in dry matter (assuming the grass has an ME of 10MJ/kgDM).  Ensuring ewes have enough muscle mass and fat cover for the system at particular times of year leads to improved fertility, increased lamb performance and reduced incidence of metabolic disease.  So, perhaps worth that little bit of time and effort handling ewes and monitoring BCS!

It has been proven that having a BCS <2 at tupping has a negative impact on ovulation rate.  Current science suggests that purposefully “flushing” ewes is economically inefficient, as any ewe in the correct body condition will not benefit from the increase nutritional level flushing offers.  However, it can be beneficial for thin ewes to help boost ovulation; useful to know if you end up with some thin animals and not enough grazing or time to fatten them up. Far better, is to prepare ahead; BCS animals at weaning and plan grazing accordingly to ensure animals are correctly prepared for tupping.

In early pregnancy, ewes require little more than maintenance levels of energy which equates to around 12% of bodyweight. There should be no abrupt changes in feed type at this time and minimal stress.  By mid-pregnancy, ewes require just above their maintenance level ideally keeping condition scores at around 3-3.5 for lowland breeds.  Scoring and ensuring correct nutrition at this time is important as placental development is very highly related to the BCS of the ewe.  It is important not to overfeed at this stage, as fat ewes will be more prone to metabolic diseases at lambing, so splitting ewes into groups following scanning may be a useful management tool.

Feeding ewes in late pregnancy is the big challenge.  The ewe’s demand for energy and protein increases to meet the rapid growth of the foetus as well as to support udder development.  At the same time, rumen capacity decreases as the foetus takes up more space.  Scanned flocks can start to split ewes to optimise their condition and to improve cost efficiency.

This example compares two ewes and two situations in a flock.  The ewes are 3 weeks prior to lambing and both weigh 70kg. Ewe 1 is bearing twins, Ewe 2 a single.  Both ewes will eat approximately 1.4kg of dry matter per day.  The difference in requirements are shown in the table below, which compares the two ewes as well as two different forage types.  Note all feed values are given in fresh weight.

The nutrition of ewes in late pregnancy directly affects the birthweight of lambs, colostrum and milk production.  Even if at no other time, this is the really critical period to calculate ewe rations.  Ensuring that forage intake is maximised and correct amounts of concentrates are used, not only makes feeding financially efficient, it ensures that metabolic issues are minimised and lambing production is maximised.


Selecting Starch Sources

19 December 2017

With lots of diets in the South West solely reliant on grass silage as a winter forage the correct selection of starch sources to balance the grass silage is paramount.

FeedCo are constantly carrying out research and analysis to understand the efficiency of energy usage, and whether starch is fermented in the rumen or passes through to be digested in the small intestine. Understanding this starch digestion rate is key to rumen function to drive performance, avoiding acidosis or starch passing through to the dung. Lab testing is used to determine the rate of the starch we are dealing with, research showing this combined with diet starch content and particle size being key balancing factors.

Dairy farmers Neil and Kath Baldwin, of Bourne Park Farm, have been working alongside FeedCo Nutritionist Matt Norman, to maximise starch intake whilst avoiding ruminal acidosis. The preferred starch source for this has been grain maize as well as wheat and barley. Since the diet changes yields have risen 3 litres per cow per day and rising steadily with impressive butterfats and proteins of 4.45% and 3.45% respectively.

The diet is currently 6kg of blend consisting of ground Maize, Sugarbeet, Wheat, Soya, Barley, Molasses, rumen protected fat, Rapemeal and Minerals and Vitamins alongside good clamp and baled silage. Out of parlour feeders provide a top up feed of Megastarch Gold 18 compound, with increased sources of maize in the diet Neil and Cath have seen increased body condition on cows leading to increased fertility rates.

Dry cows were also an area whereby improvements needed to be made and Matt Norman has made a specific transition blend with dry cow minerals and increased sources of DUP, mixed with straw and grass silage. This has led to a reduction in retained cleansings and cows entering the herd with increased milk yields.



Maximising starch within the diet has shown increases in both milk yield and milk protein. This is because increasing ruminal starch digestion improves microbial protein synthesis – the best source of protein for the cow. To maximise starch in the overall ration where maize silage is not an option, the feeding of maize grain which is slower digested within the rumen is a popular option to combine with cereals.  Due to the slower rate of ruminal maize digestion more passes through to the small intestine and is then digested straight into glucose which is more readily available for the cow to use.

Starch is a great nutrient for dairy cows, but needs good understanding to get the best from it. Knowledge of the digestion dynamics of different starch sources, and how to balance these will get the best from dairy rations this winter.



Local Dairy Leads The Way

21 September 2017

Local Dairy Leads The Way

In recent years the industry has seen massive fluctuations in milk price, leading to instability in the market place.

One local dairy, Crediton Dairy are leading the way with a new initiative to provide stability to their producer’s businesses. The dairy have been working on some sort of forward buying contract for some time and announced this proposal to their farmers a couple of weeks ago. The offering for suppliers is 10% or 20% of their base litres for 2 years at 28ppl on a standard litre. This scheme is completely voluntary and will depend on various business factors whether farmers decide it is the right thing to do.

What will this mean for suppliers? The forward contract will enable suppliers to plan ahead. FeedCo as a business believe this is an excellent example of a dairy company supporting suppliers ensuring long term relationships.

Why should producers sign up?

• Crediton Dairy producers have over the last 2 years been paid an average of 26ppl, the price offered is 2ppl over this.
• The worldwide market is currently above production of previous years.
• More stability to business, reducing the risk to the business in the milk price troughs. Bank managers like this!!!

The deadline for producers to sign up is Monday 25th September, so if anyone is in any doubt they should seriously be considering this today.

Sorting out Sorting

13 June 2017

Sorting out Sorting

Sorting is the term given to the selective behaviour of cows, or any stock, when offered mixed feeds. Sorting is that frustrating ‘nosing’ behaviour which creates nest shapes in the feed, and pushes it away from the feed fence. Usually cows sort for the concentrate portion of the ration, but they may be sorting against unpalatable feeds, or even looking for fibre if they have eaten too much concentrate previously. Irrespective of the motive, sorting causes unbalanced nutrient intake. This is proven to result in reduced efficiency of feed conversion through reduced rumen balance, and so financial loss. Another unseen problem with sorting is that it reduces feed intakes as cows eat slower due to all that messing around at the feed fence.

Recent publicity of techniques such as ‘compact TMR’ (where lots of water is added to the concentrate and the TMR extensively mixed) have brought the issue of sorting back into conversations. The moisture level of a TMR mix is often highlighted as key to sorting but is this right? And what other factors are important? With so many factors at play in each farm situation it is often difficult to be sure what works or doesn’t – this is where the research on the subject is really useful to provide scientific guidance rather than just assumption and opinion! So what does the science say?

Particle size – researchers have found that when particles of over 19mm are sorted against these cows have lower rumen pH and butterfat. At a group level the effect of this has been measured at 0.9L milk/day for every 2% of the fibre sorted, which is very significant. This makes sense that cows miss the fibre when they do not eat it, but think about how many cows are fed long fibre (bigger than a 5 pence piece) to improve rumen health! Fibre is only effective when they eat it, otherwise the heifers, shy and lame cows have to eat it later in the day. It may be a little counter-intuitive but chopping forages shorter gets more fibre into cows, both through a reduced ability to sort against these longer pieces; and a general increase in forage intake as they can physically eat more of it.

Dry Matter content – like the assumption that long fibre is good for cows, there is an assumption that a wetter mix is more difficult to sort. It figures that the concentrate will stick to the forage making it harder to separate. This assumption has been proven true for very dry rations based on dry forages for example a TMR based on hay. But we don’t see these in the UK, and for silage based TMR in the range we normally see them (40-50%DM) then adding water has actually increased sorting in some studies. Further the addition of water to these already moist rations resulted in decreased intakes, and increased risk of feed heating. So according to the science in most of our South West TMR rations adding water is a pretty questionable idea. Molasses is more beneficial, it adds to stickiness and palatability without the ‘fill’ effect of lots of water.

What else can we do? – Management factors. Twice a day feeding has been shown to reduce sorting, yet is often practically difficult on farm. It has also been shown to increase dry matter intake,  an added bonus where it is possible. Palatability is also under our control. Good forage making and avoiding spoiled feeds in the mix will reduce unpleasant tastes cows try to avoid. Similarly with concentrates some raw materials are more palatable than others and FeedCo choose these for our feeds for this reason. As mentioned above cows will sort for the fibre particles when the diet is unhealthy causing low rumen pH. Accurate rations with the right balance of fast fermenting carbohydrate to fibre are important and should not be underestimated.

For some reason we can be tempted to blame the cows when they are sorting, like they are spoilt children caught raiding the biscuit tin! Our challenge is to prevent them doing it rather than helplessly blaming them, and I hope this may have helped inform good decisions.


6 June 2017


Last week I heard of the sales representative for an anonymous feed company arguing their cake was definitely very positive for butterfat for the technical reason that it was called ‘Cream flow’! I will therefore be naming my next child ‘Usain Bolt’ in order to guarantee a sprinter in the family.

It is the time of year when butterfats are under more pressure irrespective of management system and diet. This is a seasonal cycle in production seen everywhere, and we assume driven by metabolic changes with daylength/temperature (if anyone knows the answer to this please shout).

Within this seasonal variation there are very particular diet drivers of butterfat production. They are;

  • Unsaturated fat – too much of the wrong type of fats produces rumen metabolites which depress milk butterfat production, potentially very considerably. Unsaturated fats are often described as oils due to their liquid nature. They are found in significant levels in some concentrate feeds, but usually the largest source of variation in oils in the diet is in forages. Forages can be high or low, both grass crops and maize silages, and a change in forage can have a big effect on butterfat. There is essentially an absolute amount of oil before problems occur, but this amount can be modified in certain ways discussed below.
  • It is the fermentation of fibre which produces the precursors of butterfats. Think about this and we realise that in order to improve butterfat fibres that we feed need to be fermentable. Feeding really indigestible fibre as is sometimes advised is unlikely to be much help unless rumen pH is low due to a lack of physical fibre. There is very much the law of diminishing return with structural fibre in diets – if there is enough fibre in there then adding more coarse forage fibre is unlikely to help, except for lowering yields and so removing the yield dilution effect on butterfat to the detriment of income!
  • Low Rumen pH conditions lowers the threshold for oils to cause butterfat depression. The three aspects of the rumen pH are fast fermenting carbohydrate (starch and sugar) lowering pH, fibre causing rumination to raise pH, and consistent cow management to allow smooth feed intake. When one of these is unbalanced then pH will drop. Tackling this involves looking at the starch sources and the speed of their fermentation in the rumen – a change in starch sources may be needed as some digest much quicker than others (even before they would cause low pH lots of fast starch will lean to lower butterfat and may need addressing in a butterfat issue). It is also making sure of the correct quantity and nature of the fibre. Lastly cow management at this time of year when everyone is so busy is easy to overlook. Precise and consistent feeding and milking has a much bigger impact on rumen pH than we give it credit for.
  • Yeasts and moulds have a proven negative impact on butterfat. This is not an uncommon factor on farm – coming towards the end of crimp pit or cereal store with considerable spoilage? How about silage pits in the warmer weather? No point going to considerable expense elsewhere if this is part of the issue.
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