Dairy farm management and feed cost consideration in China

In 2015, the total cumulative output of dairy raw milk in China was 37,550,000 mt, almost equal to last year. From consumption regions, the dairy product consumption of urban residents has been kept stable since the dramatic development in 2003, while the rural market grows slowly each year. The per capita consumption of liquid milk is only about 19 kg in China, even with the urban residents, far lower than Europe, America and Japan, and also lower than India, Brazil and Russia. Low per capita consumption of dairy products indicates that the growing space of the dairy product market is huge in China. From the product structure, the demand of liquid milk keeps stable all the time, through fluctuations; while the demand of yoghurt keeps increasing constantly. In recent years, the import of dairy products grew fast, while export declined considerably. The milk sources were excessive, therefore the price of raw milk kept decreasing and the imported milk sources still had price advantages. China customs’ data shows: the import of liquid milk grew fast, though the import volume of milk powder in 2015 decreased by over 40.7% in 2014, but liquid milk increased by 43.69%.

In recent years, the China dairy industry has suffered through a significant amount of price volatility in milk prices and feed prices. Margins seem to be much more minimal or negative. Commercial dairy farms have found it necessary to improve efficiencies, primarily through economies of scale gained through producing more milk per kg feed. However, in pursuing profitability on the modern dairy farm, areas often overlooked are feeding efficiencies and improving cow health.

1. Herd structure management by increasing culling rate and improving reproduction management

Raw milk requirements for processing companies are limited in China since late 2014, because of increasing imported milk products from abroad and weakness of domestic milk products consumption. So most milk processing companies are starting to set a quota for dairy farms in China, at the same time the milk quota regime came to an end in the EU on March 31, 2015.

In order to limit milk production and reduce feed cost per kg, it is best to increase culling rate to decrease DIM (Days In Milk) of the herd and increase milk production.

2. Cost control management by increasing milk production and feed efficiency

Feed bunk management

The feed should be available 24 hours per day for optimum feed intake. A key factor will be the amount of feed refusal after the 24 hour feeding program. Cornell workers indicated that a feed weigh back of 2 to 4 percent was more common in the field. If the refusal does not appear to be the mixed TMR, empty bunk syndrome can be occurring. Feed should be pushed up more than 10 to 12 times daily. Cows will consume feed after returning from milking, at feeding, and when feed is pushed up toward cows. Pushing feed up shortly after feeding is important to have feed within easy access.

Reducing ration ADF

Physical fill, cause of too much fiber or low quality feed which can be related to ration NDF and ADF, will limit DMI of dairy cows. Most farms use too much low quality forage in ration of lactating cows in China, which will limit DMI and milk production, also decreasing feed efficiency. This must be done by minimizing the usage of low quality dry hay to unlock DMI and milk performance.

Feed ingredients selection by cost performance

Most farms will choose using imported good quality forage to get better performance in China, but the feed cost will rise, so that minimizing the usage of imported hay in ration of lactating cows is also needed. Lactation values of each ingredient are calculated by cost performance to guide farms and nutritionists to select ingredients and build cost effective ration for herds.

Rumen function management

The challenge for dairy farmers and nutritionists is to optimize the fermentation process so that the conversion of feed to milk is as efficient as possible. A key factor will be keeping balance between TMR particle size and TMR starch level, especially on the condition of minimizing low quality local forage and high quality imported forage. So most farms realize that high quality whole corn silage [DM (Dry Matter) 30~35%, ADF less than 25%, particle distribution: 10~15% over 19 mm; 60~70% over 8 mm] is very important, the ration can be built with high level corn silage and protein concentrate, even without extra dry hay and corn.

Body condition management

Feed efficiency will be decreased during the late lactation stage of cows. The energy structure is important for increasing feed efficiency and to avoid fat cows on late lactation. It is necessary that the lipid level should be limited for the cows that have days in milk (DIM) over 120 or 150 days.

3. Health management by reducing oxidation stress (ROS)

Oxidative stress, when ROS accumulate and overwhelm the endogenous antioxidant protection mechanisms in the body, is an important mechanisms for biological damage in live animals (Fellenberg and Speisky, 2006). There are many different sources of oxidation stress for dairy cows, such as physiological stress of transition cows, Sub-Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA), heat stress, mycotoxins, vaccination, fat cows, and pathogen attack from environment etc. Most herds with health problems suffer from many different oxidation stresses at the same time. We need to reduce individual oxidation stress as much as possible, and avoid overlying of different oxidation stress factors.

Physiology stress of transition cows

In the transition period in dairy cattle the total antioxidant capacity of the body is under stress (Bernabucci et al., 2005). Cows with levels of ß-hydroxybutyrate and nonesterified fatty acids in the blood plasma showed higher levels of ROS and Thiobarbituric Acid Reactive Substances (TBARS) and lower levels of antioxidants. In the transition period, cows may suffer from oxidative stress due to the negative energy balance and reduced concentration of many antioxidant nutricines in the blood. A higher oxygen demand for milk synthesis increases the production of ROS within the mammary gland which in turn increases the susceptibility to develop intramammary infections or mastitis.

Oxidation stress from sara

SARA can occur as a consequence of feeding high starch rations or low eNDF rations to dairy cattle. During SARA, the rate of rumen Short-Chain Fatty Acid (SCFA) production exceeds SCFA absorption and results in an unhealthy depression of rumen pH, causes a shift in rumen microflora (Zebeli and Metzler-Zebeli, 2012). There is also an increase in rumen concentrations of potentially toxic and inflammatory compounds during SARA. One that has received the most attention is endotoxin or lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Rumenitis is the initial insult of SARA and results in inflammatory and immune activation, allows for transfer of bacterial products across the gut epithelium, and can damage tissues including the liver, hoof and mammary gland, etc. In most dairy cows, the rumen is already damaged by production diets, laminitis is a direct result of the entry of endotoxins through a damaged rumen wall.

Oxidation stress from heat stress

Under heat stress the blood supply to the gut is reduced, reactive oxygen species increase and damage the lining of the gut, endotoxin enters the blood and endotoxin causes secretion of harmful cytokines. Heat stress decreases natural immunity making the animal more vulnerable to diseases.

Oxidation stress from mycotoxin contamination

A mycotoxin is a toxic secondary metabolite produced by organisms of the fungus kingdom, commonly known as mold. There are many evidences that the damage caused by mycotoxins is also a form of oxidative stress due to the stimulation of lipid peroxidation in different organs of cows. The symptoms of mycotoxicosis depend on the type of mycotoxin; the concentration and length of exposure; as well as the health of the exposed individual. It has become a common practice to add mycotoxin binding agents in order to affectively adsorb the mycotoxins.

Despite China’s dairy industry is facing many challenges, it still has maintained a stable high growth rate and opportunities are unprecedented. The dairy industry in China is going through some major changes. The question many producers are asking is - what must I do to improve competitiveness in the industry? There is still a long way to go for Chinese dairy farmers.