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In defense of clean feed

Posted on
May 22, 2018
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By: John Goeser, PhD, PAS and Diplomate ACAN, Animal Nutrition, Research and Innovation Director

Much like humans being plagued by recent Salmonella in eggs and E. coli in romaine lettuce, dairy cattle face daily risks to their feed supply. Coined as ‘feed hygiene’, reviewing the quality of feed as it relates to cleanliness (free of bacteria, yeast, mold and mycotoxins) should be a regular routine for dairy managers. But where did these risks come from and how can nutritionists and their herd managing clients combat them?

To our advantage is the evolution of our understanding of bacteria. We’ve learned that many of these enterobacteria or pathogenic bacteria are soil-borne – in manure and even in cattle. I’m speculating these bugs are present in greater concentrations now, than what we’ve historically witnessed. Reason being, when we look at mold and yeast, we’ve watched as these colony counts have grown in recent years (according to our Rock River Laboratory database) and thus, would suspect the same for other detrimental organisms.

Rearing their ugly head through symptoms including digestive upset, substantial performance losses or milk component drops, gut shutdown, compaction, hemorrhagic bowel, gastroenteritis, and transition cow challenges, the organisms that reduce the high-quality level of the feed’s hygiene are in and around the farm daily. They wreak havoc on both animal health and your pocket book if not prevented. Knowledge of what they are as well as how to prevent their incorporation into the daily ration components is a vital part of keeping superb feed hygiene. I recommend a few key elements to avoid or take action on in order to do just that:

1)    Don’t spread manure on a growing crop. Much like I’ll explain below, manure carries all kinds of detrimental organisms that can find a way to harbor on that crop through harvest. It’s then a matter of if they can make it through the ensiling process.

2)    Merge veterinary and nutritional sciences. Work together with your veterinarian to diagnose feed-borne illnesses, especially when facing clinical outbreaks.

3)    Review your feed management and delivery. Avoid tracking mud into forage. These challenges could be born from leftover feed in the mixer, contamination from birds, etc.

4)    If irrigating with lagoon water or grey water, take proper precautions. This action can effectively inoculate a growing crop with added levels of detrimental organisms like pathogenic bacteria, which may be already present in that water and the environment.

5)    Test your TMR first, and then individual feed components. We need to look between the feed center and the feed bunk for contaminations after storage. A TMR sample will show us what’s present in the diet the cows eat. A near-perfect forage harvest and ensiling process can easily be tainted by handling at feed-out.

6)    Utilize research-proven inoculants and preservatives. This should include Lactobacillus buchneri (L. buchneri) type products and other food grade preservatives such as sorbates or benzoates. Successful ensiling should eradicate enterobacteria, so feed should clean up with effective fermentation, however we are recognizing this is not always the case.

7)    Don’t consider bacteria to just be a hay or haylage crop challenge. Bacteria could be present in corn silage with aerobic deterioration or spoilage occurring during feed out.

We’re starting at what the cows are consuming, then working back from there. If there are feed hygienic challenges at the TMR level, we then work back to determine if they are from home grown feeds, from the feed mixing and delivery process, or from some purchased wet feed that is stored on-farm such as citrus pulp, wet brewers grain, etc. Dry feeds can also harbor mycotoxins, but I typically recommend starting at the wet feeds that naturally provide bad bugs a great environment to multiply.

Achieving clean feed is an ongoing process, but the additional focus to bring your TMR components up to par will save you dollars and headaches in the long run. Work with your nutritionist to determine where weaknesses could occur in your feed creation and feed out processes that leave your cows at risk, then identify those risks to prevent or combat as needed.

Posted in:
Animal Nutrition

Rock River Laboratory

Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agricultural industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques, and research-supported analyses.  Employing a team of top specialists in their respective fields, Rock River Laboratory provides accurate, cost-effective, and timely analytical results to customers worldwide, while featuring unsurpassed customer service.

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