Nutrition Plus

Dairy Nutrition Plus

Volume 13, Issue 4 July 2017

Use Nutrition to Help Combate Heat Stress

Great Rations Don't Come From Software Alone

Ration formulation programs have made it easy to develop rations. Plug in information for the feeds available and the cows, and the software calculates the ration. However, complex computer programs for ration formulation can’t and don’t tell you everything you need to know to get great results from the cows.

Some nutrition models contain flaws or are more complicated than warranted in certain areas. Complex rumen models were developed to better predict changes to the nutrient supply to the cow by ruminal microbes, however, “We believe that they do not improve accuracy and only hinder the process of diet formulation,” explain Mike Allen and Mike VandeHaar, dairy nutritionists at Michigan State University. The programs provide much more information than needed for diet formulation. As a result, some people ‘can’t see the forest for the trees.'

“They spend too much time on details that don’t matter while ignoring factors that do,” says Allen. “More emphasis should be put on understanding effects of rations on energy intake and partitioning, production and nutrient requirements that are not considered by current ration formulation programs.” Most, if not all, diet formulation programs can be used to formulate diets as long as the nutritionist knows what information is useful and what is not.

Optimal diet formulation requires understanding variation in feeds and cows and working to reduce it, understanding and evaluating cow responses to diets and letting go of the many factors that just don’t matter. Ration formulation software should be considered your starting point. Then feedback from the cows should be used to tweak the ration. For best results, focus on the following factors.


Strive to increase the consistency of rations by reducing variation in feeds. Forages and some byproduct feeds have great variation in nutrient composition while other feeds such as dry corn and high protein soybean meal are more consistent. Each lot of purchased or harvested feed that might be variable should be tested for crude protein (CP) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Silages and wet feeds should be tested for dry matter content at least twice weekly and for CP and NDF twice monthly until the extent of variation is understood. Test forages and byproduct feeds for macro and micro minerals to better formulate mineral supplements.

Allen encourages nutritionists and producers to spend more time on activities that can help achieve their goals. Routine feed testing, monitoring variation in feeds, making sure feed mixing is accurate and uniform, ensuring that cows have access to feed most of the day and communicating with managers, feeders and cropping personnel are all important.


Not all cows respond the same to a ration. Stage of lactation, parity, milk yield, DMI, body condition and genetic potential all affect cow response. In addition, cows’ metabolic priorities change throughout lactation. While these changes are difficult to accurately include in a computer program, top-notch nutritionists who understand and pay attention to cows can use qualitative knowledge to optimize nutrition.


Allen recommends three rations—fresh, high and maintenance. The fresh ration should be moderately filling to maintain adequate rumen fill and buffer with enough starch to provide glucose and glucose precursors for milk yield. Healthy cows that eat aggressively should be switched to the high ration after 10 days postpartum.

The high ration should be less filling, but contain greater starch to drive milk yield. Actual concentrations of forage NDF and starch will depend on cow response and space for cows within the group. When cows reach a body condition score of ~3.0 on a 5-point scale they should be fed a maintenance ration that maintains milk yield and minimizes weight gain. It should have less starch and a bit higher forage NDF. Evaluate cows’ body condition score at dry off and use that information to adjust the maintenance diet as needed.

Fresh High Maintenance
~22-24% forage NDF ~17-20% forage NDF Up to 24% forage NDF
~24-26% starch ~28-32% starch ~18-22% starch
~17% CP with at least 40% RUP ~17% CP special RUP sources may not be needed ~15-16% CP


In addition to testing and quantitatively balancing diets for nutrients, qualitative knowledge should be considered, too. The filling effect of a ration is a function of forage NDF, forage digestibility and forage fragility and must be a primary concern in ration formulation. Effective NDF should be adequate to form a rumen mat. Excessive particle length should be avoided as it can reduce feed intake and increase sorting. Starch content and fermentability must be considered. Starch drives milk yield but excessive amounts can reduce feed intake, ruminal pH, milk fat yield and partition energy away from milk yield to body condition. Unfortunately, assigning accurate numbers to all of these relationships in a ration program is very difficult.


Monitor milk yield, milk components, milk composition, DMI, BCS, rumen score, fecal consistency and cow behavior. Listening to and responding to what the cows tell you are critical. While all nutritionists employ feedback from cows, their ability to do so successfully varies with experience and knowledge.

“All of us have a natural tendency to hear what we want to hear. So when we see responses we expected or wanted, we remember,” explains VandeHaar. “When we don’t see a response, we forget and assume the lack of response was due to a problem we could not control. We forget that an increase in milk might also have been due to some factor other than diet.”

Ration formulation for lactating cows is a complex process. Nutrition software programs are an important part of that process, but not all information generated is useful. For best results, Allen and VandeHaar recommend nutritionists spend more time to better understand how rations affect nutrient intake and partitioning. These are the most important factors for ration formulation but are not predicted by current ration formulation programs.

To learn more, please see both articles “Diet Formulation for Lactating Cows: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” and “Mind Over Models”.

Happenings The Ideal Protein

A 30+ year tradition of SoyPlus research continued recently at the American Dairy Science Association annual meeting. New research incorporating SoyPlus illustrated how better bypass and better dietary protein can mean more milk.


In research from Michigan State University graduate student Enhong Liu and Dr. Mike VandeHaar, SoyPlus was used to create a higher protein diet which yielded more than 10 additional pounds of milk per cow. Liu presented his abstract, “Repeatability of Residual Feed Intake Across Diets with Two Levels of Dietary Protein Content,” at the event in Pittsburgh which brought together top scholars and industry experts from around the world to share the latest developments in dairy science and dairy cattle management.

Universities have trusted SoyPlus in more than 150 published Journal of Dairy Science trials to provide a desirable amino acid profile, high intestinal digestibility, reliable RUP values and flavor cows love. Quality checks are ingrained in every step of our 100% natural process to give you—and researchers worldwide—assurance that what’s on the label is what’s in SoyPlus. Visit to view the full research bibliography.

From the Maternity Pen First-Calf Heifers Need Special Care

During the transition to lactation, all cows experience a series of stressful events. Multiple pen changes, multiple diet changes, parturition and the onset of lactation all can cause stress. New research shows that all of the changes during transition may be more stressful for primiparous cows than for multiparous cows.

Photo of Man with Cows

Researchers at the University of British Columbia compared the feeding, social, exploratory sampling of the feed bunk and lying behaviors of healthy primiparous and multiparous cows during transition. Cows that developed health problems were removed from the study. Results based on parity alone showed that first-calf heifers had lower dry matter intake, spent more time feeding, ate more slowly, visited the feeder more frequently and explored their feeding environment more than multiparous cows. Primiparous cows also lay down more frequently, but for shorter periods of time. Total time spent lying did not differ between the two groups. In addition, primiparous cows were displaced at the feeder more often than multiparous cows.

Results were examined a second time with a more complex model that first accounted for the effects of body weight and milk production and then considered parity. Even after accounting for the differences in body weight and milk production, behavioral differences remained in DMI, time spent feeding, displacements from the feeder and in lying times.

Healthy primiparous cows and multiparous cows behave differently during transition. Understanding these differences may help producers manage all cows to have a better transition. This new research provides more evidence that primiparous cows may benefit from separate transition management.

You can read the full study, “Parity Differences in the Behavior of Transition Dairy Cows,” in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

Consultants Corner Precision Dairy Farming: Is It Right for You?

Jeff Bewley
  • Jeffrey Bewley
  • University of Kentucky

Technologies are changing the shape of the dairy industry around the globe. Given the ongoing technological culture shift in every facet of our society, the rapid introduction of new technologies should come as no surprise.

In the dairy industry, technologies measure physiological, behavioral and production indicators of individual animals, and that information can then be used to improve management strategies and farm performance, explains Jeffrey Bewley, associate extension professor of dairy systems management, University of Kentucky. Precision dairy farming has three main objectives:

  1. Maximize individual animal potential.
  2. Early detection of disease.
  3. Maximize preventative care in order to minimize the use of medications.

Dairy producers have traditionally relied on visual observation, experience and judgement to identify animals that need extra care. Clinical signs have traditionally been the primary identifier of disease. But physiological changes which are undetectable by human senses often precede clinical signs. New technologies can detect certain physiological changes, such as a change in rumination, activity or changes in milk composition which can allow producers to intervene sooner.

Technologies will not change cows or people. But they will change how they work together, says Bewley. These new tools do not replace good “cow sense.” Instead, they should be used to enhance a manager’s ability to detect problems sooner when intervention may still be possible. When used correctly, these tools can help decrease the use of medications and improve cow health and productivity. Dairy cow diseases, especially those that occur during the transition period, are expensive. They compromise a cow’s health, her milk production potential and her longevity in the herd. That makes prevention a priority. (For more on the cost of transition cow disease please see “The Cost of Common Transition Cow Problems” in the May issue of Dairy Nutrition Plus.)

Precision dairy farming can predict and detect disease and alert producers to individual cows with changes in the indicators monitored. Benefits of precision dairy farming technologies can include improved animal health and well-being, reduced costs, increased efficiency, improved product quality and minimized adverse environmental impacts. Animal health, reproduction and quality control are the areas on farm where technologies are most often used.

Most of the technologies available were developed in other industries. They were transferred to the dairy industry for market expansion, as opposed to being developed to fill a specific need. Not all of the technologies available are good investments. Before investing, Bewley advises that producers consider the economic and people factors first. Investing in technology does not yield immediate benefits. It can take a few months to learn how to use the information generated. Remember, the data collected is meaningless unless it is interpreted and used to make decisions and take action.

Before investing in precision dairy farming technologies, Bewley advises that producers look at the university research results. Conduct a formal investment analysis. Consider the cost-benefit ratio, total investment cost, its ease of use and whether or not it fills an actual need on your farm. The ideal technology should explain an underlying biological process, can be translated to a meaningful action and is cost-effective, flexible, robust and reliable, simple and solution-focused with information that is readily available to the producer.

Precision dairy farming technologies provide tremendous opportunities for improvements in individual animal management. Dairy producers with good “cow sense” will benefit most from technology adoption. Those who view technologies as a way to do something they don’t like to do will likely struggle. While the technologies can be applied to farms of all sizes, success is really up to the producers’ willingness to learn from and use the information. Every producer should at least ask the question: “Is it right for me?”

Beyond Bypass New Insights Into uNDF and aNDF

At any given time, rumen fiber fill is a function of dietary uNDF, slowly fermenting NDF and undigested fast-pool NDF. The more rapidly rumen space is made available (by rumen turnover—the combination of ruminal digestion and passage rate) the higher the level of intake that can be attained. Knowing the uNDF content of feeds can help improve the accuracy of DMI estimates by telling us, for example, how much uNDF in a TMR a cow can consume before rumen fill occurs, and conversely, how much uNDF must be consumed to maintain rumen fill and digestive efficiency. Also, understanding the rate of degradation helps explain how fast more space is made to allow for increased intake.

The NDF and uNDF must both be corrected for organic matter. Soil ash falsely inflates NDF and uNDF values. When the ash content has been accounted for with aNDFom analysis (NDF with sodium sulfite, amylase and ash correction), and rations are reformulated, the amount of forage fed often increases by 2-3%, explains Mike Van Amburgh, dairy nutritionist at Cornell University. With significant ash contamination, forage levels may need to be increased by over 10%.

Las Uvas Dairy, NM - Dairy Nutrition Plus

“Data being generated on lactating dairy cattle indicates that the cow can ‘identify’ with the values related to the uNDF measurements along with the fast and slow digesting NDF pools,” says Van Amburgh. “And these measurements are in some manner related to rumen fill, eating speed and, ultimately, dry matter intake.”

A forage digestibility study at the Miner Institute with high and low forage inclusion rates showed that cows consume approximately the same amount of uNDF as is excreted in feces each day. This 1:1 ratio of uNDF coupled with the relationship between the rumen contents of uNDF and the intake of uNDF suggests that understanding uNDF may allow for a more direct estimate of rumen fill of total NDF and allow us to predict intake among differences in TMRs with different uNDF values.

Data generated so far suggests that prediction for energy, rates of digestion and microbial yield and dry matter intake will be improved through the application of uNDF and fast and slow pools of NDF in ration formulation.

Quality Corner New Videos Highlight Homegrown Quality

Combine & Tractor in Field

Consistency matters in feed ingredients. For the SoyPlus team, consistency begins with quality. New videos take you inside the SoyPlus manufacturing process that’s been producing consistent, high quality ingredients for more than 30 years.

As a farmer-owned cooperative, we source locally-grown beans from farmer members we know and trust. Working hand-in-hand with these growers is a privilege we don’t take lightly. And that’s one reason why the SoyPlus team is so dedicated to producing high-quality, consistent product, every lot, every time.

“Our farmer-owners take great pride in the quality of their soybeans. For us, it’s an honor to turn those beans into something greater. SoyPlus allows us to share locally-grown quality with dairy producers worldwide and give value back to the farmers who started our whole process,” said Mark Cullen, chief animal nutrition officer at Landus Cooperative overseeing the Dairy Nutrition Plus product line.

To ensure that the nutritional integrity of our soybeans is preserved throughout the natural manufacturing process, SoyPlus undergoes rigorous and consistent testing. Product is routinely subjected to not just one, but two protein analytical procedures. The RUP content is verified via ongoing in situ testing in addition to being subjected to additional evaluation using the Ross in vitro method. The SoyPlus plant is ISO and HACCP certified.

Visit to look inside our manufacturing plant and meet some of the SoyPlus team members who dedicate each day to preserving the quality, and elevating the value, of our local farmers’ beans in every batch of SoyPlus.