Better utilisation while buffer feeding

Friday, 19 June 2020

Successful buffer feeding not only helps slow down the rotation and conserve grass for grazing, it can also be cost-effective if you reduce waste, maintain milk yields and generate payback. While feeding in the paddock is a cheaper option, it risks encouraging local wildlife into the paddock, which isn’t good for TB management.

Feeding indoors, however, is efficient and offers cows some shade in a hot summer, thereby increasing intakes, points out LIC grazing consultant Sean Chubb. “It is cheaper to feed in paddock because there is no scraping up to do and there won’t be any compaction if the ground is dry. Grass silage fed in the paddock won’t kill off grass, whereas maize, being more acidic, does burn, creating a visible yellow ting,” he explains.

“It works in New Zealand because not everyone has a feed pad, but the return on spend will be more from feeding in troughs because of improved feed utilisation. If you do feed maize as a buffer in the trough, remember it is lower in protein and you might need to look at other sources in the diet to meet cow requirements.”

To reduce waste, Sean says it’s important to maintain the silage clamp face to avoid secondary fermentation. Furthermore, payback is better when feeding top-quality forage to spring-calving herds as this will maintain milk yields – dropping 1–2 litres/cow/day would affect the rest of lactation. It wouldn’t be cost-effective for late-lactation autumn calvers as they are soon to be dried off.  

Sean cautions that buffer feeding is a fine balance between feeding cows fully and maintaining grazing quality through correct residuals. “If residuals are below 1,500 kgDM/ha, then you aren’t feeding enough supplement; if they are above 1,650 kgDM/ha, there is too much and you need to cut back on silage so that cows graze properly. There is always going to be some substitution, just limit it and keep measuring residuals,” he says.