Hutjens: Determine what benefit you’ll get from additives before opening wallet

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UNIONTOWN, Ohio – Milk producers are always looking for ways to shave pennies from their feed bill, the largest cost of producing milk. But milk producers are also always looking for ways to improve herd health through better nutrition. Are the two attempts mutually exclusive?

University of Illinois dairy nutrition expert Michael Hutjens shared his feed additive recommendations with nearly 200 dairymen and industry representatives attending the Northeast Ohio Dairy Management Conference sponsored by OSU Extension March 21 at the Raintree Country Club in Uniontown.

Do your homework. Even if producers rely on nutritionists’ advice for their herd feed rations, Hutjens said they need to consider the four Rs – response, returns, research and results – before buying feed additives.

First, what is the response, or what will the additive do for your cows? “If you can’t figure that out, keep your money in your pocket,” Hutjens said.

Next, pencil it out and figure out the returns. Are you feeding the whole herd, or certain groups? And in those groups, not all will respond, Hutjens warned. Target a 2-1 cost-benefit ratio.

Producers should also ask to see the research data to find out if studies were controlled and unbiased.

Finally, Hutjens said, producers have to know what they’re going to monitor to determine if the product is working, for example, changes in milk components or heifer growth.

When evaluating additives, the ruminant nutritionist urged producers to pay attention to what the universities are saying about product groups. He assigns a “status” to additives, such as “recommended,” “experimental,” “evaluative” and “not recommended.” Evaluative means that the published research is “all over the place,” Hutjens said.

Most of the new research and products targets the transition cow, from three weeks prior to three weeks post-calving, which is the most critical time in the lactation cycle. It’s also the time that determines the profitability of the cow.

What’s new. The hot ticket item in feed additives is anionic salts fed before calving, Hutjens said. The products help increase calcium absorption and reduce milk fever and retained placenta, while increasing dry matter intake.

The bad news is that they’re unpalatable and have to be mixed with something like distillers grain or molasses to get cows to eat it.

You also have to be a good manager and stay on top of urine pH levels. If urine pH is over 7, the anionic products aren’t working; if urine pH is too low, you’re at risk of kidney and health problems. Hutjens said target urine pH values for Holsteins are 6.2 to 6.8; for Jerseys, 5.5 to 6.0.

Hutjens said Iowa costs runs 40 cents to 75 cents per dry cow per day, depending on the product, but he estimates a benefit-to-cost ration of 10 to 1.

Several new products use hydrochloric acid instead of the unpalatable salts, Hutjens added.

Yeast culture. Hutjens also strongly recommended using yeast culture two weeks before calving until 10 weeks postpartum to boost fiber-digesting bacteria and help stabilize the rumen. He cited research that saw an extra 2 pounds of dry matter intake in the close-up cows, a time when intake typically drops.

A new kid on the block is rumen protected choline, which Hutjens classifies as still “experimental.” It is touted as improving fat mobilization and minimizing ketosis and weight loss.

The new sources have been encapsulated and fat coated, but the product requires careful handling, Hutjens said, or you’ll break the coating.

Other feed modifiers are worth a second look, the dairy nutritionist said, particularly silage bacterial inoculants, which he called a “no brainer.” They’ve changed in the last five years and new data boosts these products into his “recommended” column.

Even with a cost of 60 cents to $2 per treated ton of silage, the inoculants have solid paybacks in feed recovery and production improvement, Hutjens said.

But be careful, he added, these products can have variable bacterial counts, different bacteria or different recommendations for storing and applying. Not all are alike.

Newer enzymes, often sprayed on, are used to increase fiber digestibility but they’re still unproven and should be considered experimental, he said.

What about biotin? Also on the dairy conference agenda, Bill Weiss of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center updated producers on research findings on biotin, which has generated renewed interest in recent years because of its boost to hoof health.

All of the studies have reported a positive response on some measure of hoof health to supplemental biotin, Weiss said. But there’s also a link between supplemental biotin and rumen metabolism that could impact increased fiber digestion.

Last year, Weiss teamed up with researchers They fed three levels of biotin starting at 14 days before calving until 100 days into the lactation. Dry matter intake wasn’t affected, but milk production increased with increasing biotin. The increase came only from high-producing cows, not from cows at lower production (45 pounds/day).

Other speakers. The conference also included an update on Ohio’s new livestock permitting program rules, which are slated to be filed with the Joint Committee on Rules and Regulations as early as April 3, according to Kevin Elder, executive director of the new division within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Scott Higgins, American Dairy Association-Dairy Council Mid East, gave an update on checkoff-funded promotions and a dairy producer panel featured Jay Esbenshade, Witmer Dairy Farm, Salem; Mike Gessel, Gessel Family Farm, Moreland, Ohio; and John Kline, Ayers Farm, Perrysville.

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