Low-forage diets for cows require extra care


Variation in forage quality, limited supply of forage, high prices for forage and attempts to maximize milk yield are factors for why low-forage diets are often fed to lactating cows.
Certainly for this year, limited forage supply and high prices for forage (although prices for many other feeds are not going to be low) are conditions that exist.
Fiber. When considering low-forage diets, one must keep in mind that adequate effective fiber in the diet is critical for healthy, high-producing dairy cows.
Maintaining a stable rumen fermentation requires providing a minimum level of effective fiber and not exceeding a maximum level of nonfiber carbohydrates (e.g. starch).
Forage neutral detergent fiber is a good indicator of effective fiber, but particle size of forage, source of nonfiber carbohydrates (e.g. corn vs. wheat), and fermentability of the nonfiber carbohydrates source (e.g., dry vs. high moisture corn) must be considered when formulating diets based on minimum forage neutral detergent fiber.
Low-forage diets generally should not be fed to dairy cows during the first 30 days in milk because of the low dry matter intake at parturition and the risk of metabolic diseases.
Management. Intense feeding management is required when low-forage diets are fed. Generally speaking, diets should contain a minimum of 26 percent to 28 percent neutral detergent fiber using traditional diets consisting of little or no high-fiber concentrate feeds.
Assuming 75 percent of the neutral detergent fiber should be forage, 21 percent forage neutral detergent fiber would be needed in the ration. However, research has revealed that lower forage neutral detergent fiber can be fed.
Guidelines. Based on several experiments, here are some guidelines for limiting forage in diets:

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