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A Word of Warning this Winter

Rumen acidosis is a major health problem in modern dairy farming. It causes decreased intake, poor digestion and production losses. Health costs can also increase due to an increased risk of hoof problems and displaced abomasums.

The modern dairy cow that is managed for high production can suffer from rumen acidosis if the necessary precautions are ignored.

A common pitfall is a lack of structural fibre or too much readily digestible carbohydrate in these cows’ diets. Such unbalanced diets influence rumen function by increasing ruminal acid production.

If the ruminal acid concentration increases, pH drops. Although saliva that is produced during mastication and rumination buffers rumen pH, the pH will decrease after eating concentrates or other sources of readily fermentable carbohydrates. If rumen pH drops below 5.5, sub-acute rumen acidosis occurs.

Causes of rumen acidosis:

  • Poor quality forage leading to reduced dry matter intakes
  • Acidic grass silages
  • Increase in concentrates in a quest to boost yields and take advantage of higher milk prices
  • Higher concentrate to forage ratios
  • Raw material shortages
  • Inclusion of high starch feeds with little structural fibre

Actions to minimise the effects of acidosis and poor rumen function this winter

  • Introduce more digestible fibre such as straw – but watch the effect on the overall energy density of the diet
  • Review the ration to assess starch intake
  • Monitor dry matter intakes
  • Assess the NDF:Starch & Sugar ratio
  • Introduce an effective rumen buffer

Sodium bicarbonate is a commonly used product to prevent the incidence of rumen acidosis as it increases rumen pH. However, the product has a major disadvantage as it works only over a very short period. It is used very quickly by the animal due to its high solubility.

A good rumen buffer will afford better protection. Downland Rumen Buffer contains a blend of ingredients that neutralise acid in the rumen very quickly and overcome the risks of a fall in pH. This has been shown to help dairy cows achieve their full potential without the risk of rumen acidosis.

Figure 1 illustrates the required quantity of competitor rumen buffer which is needed to have the same buffering capacity as Downland Rumen Buffer. For example you require 2.6 times more sodium bicarbonate, or 1.5 times more of other products than the Downland Rumen Buffer, to have the same buffering capacity.

Figure 1:  Buffering capacity of Downland Rumen Buffer compared to other buffers

Downland Rumen Buffer is available in convenient 25kg bags for on-farm use and recommended feeding rates are as follows:

  • Dairy cattle 100-150g/head/day
  • Beef cattle 80-100g/head/day

It is essential that farmers pay attention this winter as they strive to produce milk as efficiently as possible. Milk prices have strengthened but producers and their advisers need to follow cow performance and be ready to tweak diets to keep on target, to get the best out of their cows and their milk contracts.

Find out more about Downland Rumen Buffer here.

8th November 2017

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