Focus on buying rations based on energy content
'What do you think of that?" The farmer had taken a docket out of his pocket and asked me to comment on the quality of the 16pc protein ration he had in his feed bin. But with the purchase already made and in the feed bin, in my view, the farmer had the cart before the proverbial horse.
Like most dairy farmers, he had bought the ration on the basis of its crude protein content. This is entirely the wrong approach. Rations must be bought on the basis of their energy content. Then protein content, followed by minerals and finally fibre.
Energy is the most important aspect of the dairy cow's diet. Whether she is eating grazed grass or ration, this statement holds true. If cows are not milking as well as they should, the problem is usually lack of energy. Similarly, if milk protein is not right, it usually comes back to energy. And if cows lose too much body condition, it's because of energy. Energy drives everything and it is the most limiting nutrient in dairy production systems.
Funnily enough, if you ask farmers what is the most important nutrient in any ration, they will tell you that it is energy, but when you ask them would they buy on that basis, they will tell you no. Why not? The farmer will respond by saying the compounders will not give them the information. But if they don't ask for the information they certainly won't get it.
Unfortunately, there is no onus on the part of the compounder to give the farmer this information. So it is up to the farmer to demand information on this critical component.
By law, the compounder has only to state the crude protein content, the fibre content, the ash content and the amount of minerals and vitamins and, of course, they must also state the list of ingredients making up the ration in descending order of inclusion.
In other words, the ingredient with the highest inclusion level in the ration is at the top of the list. The last piece of information was perhaps the last 'concession' of the compounders to their customers.