If you're putting up drier forages these days, chances are you're also facing some mixing and feeding challenges in your TMR. A dusty mix can mean less palatability and more sorting in the bunk.
But a simple and effective solution, say two dairy nutritionists, is to add water.
This may go against the conventional rule of keeping ration dry matter at or near the magic 50% level. But how the water gets into the TMR is more important than how much moisture is there, says David LaCount, manager of dairy nutrition and technical services for Land O'Lakes Farmland Feed.
“The reason many high-moisture rations are high in moisture is because the forages were too wet at harvest,” says LaCount. “The fermentation product of wet forages is the problem with using them in a TMR. The butyric acid, ammonia nitrogen and potential for mold and yeast growth are what disrupts the rumen and causes problems in the cow.”
If good results are achieved by replacing some of those wet forages with hay or other dry feeds, the response didn't come from taking moisture out of the ration, he adds. It came from removing some of the poorly-fermented forages.
He says that simply adding water to a ration to improve palatability will have no adverse effects. Based in eastern Wisconsin, LaCount says he has worked with producers who have added as much as 25 lbs of water/cow/day, ending up with rations testing nearly 60% moisture. The results were higher dry matter intakes and better milk production.
A problem with adding water to rations in the summer months is that you have to be careful that it doesn't cause the ration itself to heat up too much, notes Larry Chase, dairy nutritionist at Cornell University. That would allow any molds and yeasts present in the forages to multiply.
“Two to 4 lbs of water per cow is often enough,” says Chase, and LaCount concurs.
“You want it just moist enough that if you take some of the mixture in your hand and make a ball, it falls apart gradually,” he says. “It should be just moist enough so the dry particles stick to the forage.”
Molasses is a warm-weather alternative to water for moistening dry rations, says Chase.
“It reduces some of the concerns with ration heating, but it's only a value if you need the added nutrients or want to enhance palatability. Otherwise, the right amount of water works just fine.”
With the wide variety of field and crop conditions across the country this season, Chase recommends that producers sit down with their nutritionists just after harvest and do some analysis and planning to make sure they'll have enough quality feeds.
“Doing an early fall inventory and some planning will be key in taking the best advantage of the feeds they have,” he says.