Feed smart in dairy systems

Buying feed from a reputable feed company is often cheaper and less stressful than mixing your own.

Tthe feed industry is an indispensable part of dairy production in South Africa. To illustrate this statement, I’ll mention three out of the many classic stories I have heard. Some years ago, a farmer was convinced that he could blend his own dairy ration for less than he could buy it from a feed company. A pair of heavy-duty fencing pliers fell out of the hammermill operator’s pocket and dropped into the mill.

It might only have been a pair of pliers, but it was also a spanner in the works as far as the farmer’s plan to blend his own dairy ration went.The damage caused to the hammermill cost twice as much as the perceived savings on feed cost. After the mill was repaired, operations resumed. But it was not long before there was a repeat of the incident, this time with a shifting spanner. That was the end of the farmer’s on-farm mixing.

Less feed
One KZN farmer milled his own maize and only bought a consignment from a feed company as a temporary measure when he ran out of feed. After a month or so, he realised he was using less feed than with his own ration. There was a 6% loss in hammermilling the maize due to moisture and dust, in addition to labour and energy costs. A dairy farmer with a large herd who decided to mix his own ration found suppliers of protein sources to be unreliable. Prices fluctuated fairly dramatically and what he received was often of questionable quality. He went back to the feed company for its ration.

Quality assured
The standards of commercially available dairy meal is governed by law. This lays down, among other things, the minimum percentage of protein, phosphorus, fibre, fat and calcium. Before any consignment is offloaded from railway trucks, the quality of the feed is checked for protein, moisture and contaminants. Consignments found to be below standard are returned to the supplier. Many of these rejected ‘shipments’ are then sold directly to farmers who mix their own feed.

An important part of the feed industry is the field technical advisors often referred to as ‘feed reps’, which to my mind is a derogatory name. These advisors are mostly experienced in ruminant nutrition and proficient in diagnosing and solving dairy nutritional problems.

Of course there are competent on-farm blenders of feed, but the feed companies provide a useful and necessary service to farmers who need help with nutrition and who don’t have the time to balance their own rations. Dairy farmers would be well advised to relieve themselves of the extra stress and expense, use a reputable feed company and avail themselves of the free technical services it offers.

Malcolm Stewart-Burger founded the Society of Master Dairymen and designed the Maxi Milk System. He is currently a part-time consultant to Nutex Feeds and De Heus.

Contact Malcolm at [email protected]. Please state ‘Milking for profit’ in the subject line of your email.