Dairy cow workshops: Cargill aims to bring theory alive

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

The Cargill team has been assessing phosphorus availability within various ingredients and subsequent utilization by the dairy cow. © Cargill
The Cargill team has been assessing phosphorus availability within various ingredients and subsequent utilization by the dairy cow. © Cargill

Related tags Heat stress Cattle Dairy farming Milk Cargill

Phosphorus control, a pertinent issue in the Dutch dairy sector right now, was one of the areas Cargill zoomed in on a recent education initiative involving Dutch feed millers. 

Cargill’s ruminant team gathered advisors from feed mills throughout the Netherlands for its awareness raising workshops in actual dairy operations in both the north and south of the country.

The Cows View - with Ruud Vullers
Ruud Vullers, sales ruminant lead for West Europe at Cargill, says listen to the animals, cows don't lie. He shared insights on how to assess a cow's coat and behavior, and he talked about the must haves in terms of housing, ventilation, feed and water delivery.

“We wanted this exercise to be very much about practical application, being close to the cows and explaining about how to go about managing heat stress, and phosphorus modelling, farm and feed efficiency or how the rumen works, in the actual setting of a farm.

“The workshops allow us to interact with our customers using real practice, getting feedback from them on the spot, and they also allow an exchange of knowledge,”​ Anke Hamminga-Hiemstra, commercial manager, Cargill Animal Nutrition, who organized the on-farm events, told us.

She stressed that feed is the most important factor for the health, wellbeing and productivity of livestock, and, in order to get optimal performance, all factors on a farm need to work in unison, so it helps, she said, when theory comes alive.

There is growing interest in the approach:

“Four years ago, when we started these farm days, we had 45 staff coming from feed operations, this time out we had 100 people who signed up.”

Cargill has run similar workshops with feed millers outside the Netherlands. 

Phosphorus model

Phosphor model - Sander van Zijderveld
Sander van Zijderveld, Cargill technical ruminant expert, explaining the company's phosphorus control model to attendees.

Sander van Zijderveld, Cargill’s technical ruminant expert for Western Europe, was on hand during the farm days to explain how the model works, and how to achieve optimal phosphorus digestion, absorption and metabolism in dairy cattle.

The company has been fine-tuning its phosphorus model for dairy cows for the past three years. 

This predictive tool can be integrated into the calculation programs of feed mills to determine the correct phosphorus levels in concentrates,” ​said Hamminga-Hiemstra.   

The model is science-based and validated by international publications. “The Cargill team has been assessing phosphorus availability within various ingredients and subsequent utilization by the dairy cow," ​she said.

The model calculates phosphorus balance for the entire lactation cycle, not just one snapshot, she added.

Regulatory pressure

The dairy sector in the Netherlands, in particular, is under pressure to reduce phosphate production. The Dutch government is to introduce phosphate rights in 2018. 

Milk production in the Netherlands, post quota abolition, has been extremely high, with Dutch dairy farmers coming in above set phosphate limits, unlike the pig and poultry industries in that country. 

Last month, in order to achieve lower phosphate levels in 2017, the Dutch dairy chain - dairy industry, feed companies, consultancy organizations and the government - decided to collaborate to ensure a joint approach to phosphate reduction. It is expected this will result in, among other things, a limited reduction in herd size over the course of the year.

Heat stress

Heat stress was also on the agenda at the farm days: “One normally thinks of heat stress in cattle in warmer regions such as the Middle East but such events can occur in the barns of North-Western Europe as well,​” said Hamminga-Hiemstra. 

Workshop Heat-stress with Rob Hulshof
Workshop with Rob Hulshof, sales ruminant lead, Cargill

Peaks in heat stress are hard to predict in North-Western Europe, but when looking back over the past five years, the period in which these peaks occur are always in the same four month time-frame, she said. "This allows for the preventative feeding of additives to reduce the negative impact of heat stress peaks."

Rob Hulshof, sales ruminant lead for Cargill, told attendees they could take a preventative approach during the whole heat stress period to prevent any negative effects.

The company maintains that high yielding dairy cows are sensitive to heat stress but also to controls.

Its heat stress targeted feed additive, which includes an osmolite compound, works on the cellular level to maintain the structural integrity of proteins sensitive to changes in body temperature, moderate the elevation of body temperature in ruminants during heat stress, and mitigate the effects of heat stress on acidosis, milk quality and pregnancy rate. 

Optimizing fermentation

Kasper Dieho, technology application specialist at Cargill, conducted a workshop on the rumen wall based on his recent PhD thesis at Wageningen University. He experimented with taking all the feed out of the rumen and replacing it with a volatile fatty acid (VFA) solution to study VFA absorption.

While such action can only be done in a research setting, the main learning from his research is that nutrient absorption rates were 20% higher when only the VFA solution was present compared with the naturally filled rumen; these early stage findings indicate we can adapt feeding strategies to make the fermentation and absorption process in the rumen more efficient,”​ said Hamminga-Hiemstra.     

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