Building better rumen function key to production gains

Published: Mon 15 Aug 2011 03:18 PM
Building better rumen function key to production gains
Learning more about rumen function and how to improve it is key to boosting production in dairy herds and generating wealth for New Zealand farmers.
Altum Animal Nutrition Manager Jackie Aveling said the benefits of rumen research are two-fold because it focuses on both animal performance and reducing methane production, with both subjects often linked as energy is lost through methane production.
Mrs Aveling was one of 220 delegates from 23 countries around the world who attended a conference focused on rumen function in German hosted by Caltech Crystalyx and German agricultural co-operative Agravis.
She said a lot of rumen research has been conducted through universities contracted by UK-based Caltech Crystalyx, who produce a range of dehydrated molasses blocks to provide a targeted high-energy supplement to the main forage diet.
Altum markets Crystalyx exclusively in New Zealand as part of its broad strategy to provide complete farm nutrient management to its customers.
Mrs Aveling said international interest in the research demonstrated at the conference was focused on maximising rumen performance.
“The theme of the conference was ‘feeding the rumen in a changing world’ and the focus was about getting the right balance with animal nutrition to not just boost production, but to also reduce farm input costs,” Mrs Aveling said.
“Much of the ground covered at the conference was linked back to the need to understand more about the rumen and how that knowledge can be turned into practical on-farm advice in the future.”
According to Professor Maciej Kowalski from the University of Krakow in Poland, who was a keynote speaker at the conference, forage is still the major component of dairy diets despite the demand for “fast” nutrients to meet yield demands and so the importance of forage quality in reducing diet costs and maximising productivity can not be over-emphasised.
“Ultimately the effectiveness of forages depends on how well they are fermented in the rumen. Only a healthy rumen can exploit the potential in forages,” Professor Kowalski stressed.
Researchers speaking at the conference highlighted practical steps which farmers could take now to improve rumen performance. These included ensuring adequate protein in the diet, especially where lower quality forages were fed.
“In trials with Crystalyx and hay diets, the addition of nitrogen in the blocks led to a significant increase in the rate of fibre digestion and up to a 25% increase in feed intakes. This is of particular interest as poorer quality forages are often fed to growing heifers and dry cows,” Professor Jim Drouillard from Kansas State University said.
Mrs Aveling said when we think of livestock farming we automatically think of cows and sheep and how they convert pasture into protein in the form of milk, meat and wool.
“However, the rumen is the engine of farm animal performance and the more we learn about it the better we can improve production. As Professor Drouillard stated during the conference, although the rumen contains billions of micro-organisms we currently only know about 5% of them, which means there’s a lot more we can learn.”
Crystalyx has conducted many field trials in Europe and other parts of the world, but Altum has recognised the need to run similar trials to demonstrate the effectiveness under New Zealand farming conditions.
One such trial looked at the benefits of Crystalyx Forage Plus dehydrated molasses blocks. The AgResearch study showed replacement heifer conception rates improved to 100% while the control herd achieved just 95%.
Mrs Aveling said other trials on Crystalyx were currently underway here in New Zealand, and work continues elsewhere, investigating how improved rumen function could reduce methane emissions from stock.
“Projects like this demonstrate the rural sector and the entire global agricultural economy are serious about the environmental impact of farming, not just production. If we can extract more from the diet and reduce non-productive animals it’s a win-win situation.”

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