Optimising Rumen function

A pelleted Fodder for balanced energy and fibre supplementation

Good ruminant performance depends upon good rumen function, and rumen function depends upon the microbes that inhabit it receiving good quality fodder and perhaps more importantly a consistent, stable diet. The microbial population is a mix of bacteria, protozoa and fungi and different species digest different elements within the diet such as cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, urea, starch and so on. The rumen works best when it has a diet that allows its microbial population to be in equilibrium. Changes to diet change the balance of species and they take time to adapt to new conditions and build up their populations again, thus reducing rumen function. In conjunction with Vital Alfa, Vital Beeta can form the basis of a relatively stable diet presentation for smallholder dairy farms as its consistency will not change – the product is formed from plant material, harvested for its quality. It is not a mixture made up to meet particular protein or energy levels but raw plant material from a single-source plant species, sugar beet. It is produced through pelleting a dried by-product of sugar beet which is used in making sugar in temperate regions.

The rumen is capable of converting huge volumes of lower cost plant material into high value meat or milk, but only if supplied with the correct balance of feeds to maintain a good healthy fermentation. The speed of this fermentation is driven by how quickly the energy in the feeds is broken down in the rumen, but maximum efficiency – and the most efficient conversion of feed into production – occurs only when the rumen microbes receive a more controlled supply of nutrients. If too much energy is available too quickly, the result is an excess production of lactic acid in the rumen, creating an acid environment (low pH) that disrupts normal rumen activity. The result is a condition called acidosis, a digestive upset of the rumen that can either be acute (causing a dramatic and immediate drop-off in feed intakes, growth and milk production) or can occur at a less obvious, sub-clinical level. This sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA for short) will produce a general reduction in animal vigour, feed intake and productive performance that can easily go unnoticed. The other key indicator that acidosis might be an issue is very loose dung - it’s a clear signal that a more balanced diet is needed.

Vital Beeta has an important role to play in this process. Many energy feeds contain high levels of starch (e.g. cereal grains) and low levels of digestible fibre, which together this can create an acidosis risk. What is needed is a balancing source of energy that breaks down in the rumen more slowly. The digestible fibre in Vital Beeta pellets are one of the best options available. Including Vital Beeta in youngstock, beef or dairy rations is probably the most cost-effective way to help create a balanced supply of energy in the rumen and help reduce the incidence of acidosis. Ideal as a supplement fed alongside grazed grass, silage, cereals or cereal-based concentrates, the result is better feed intakes, more milk and better growth – not only are digestive upsets avoided, but the improved rumen fermentation will convert all feed more efficiently into production. Ruminant performance in lactating dairy cows depends upon a high feed intake. Vital Beeta is well-preserved and has a pleasant, sweet smell that ensures its high palatability to dairy animals. Intakes are therefore improved and more material is made available in the rumen of the animal in order to generate more energy and protein for milk or meat production. Beef cattle fed dry cereal-based finishing rations benefit hugely from the improvements in rumen fermentation and intake that follow inclusion of sugar beet feed, whilst the digestible fibre in sugar beet feed is known to promote milk fat production. Feeding Vital Beeta as a replacement for part of the cereal-based concentrates fed to dairy cows is one of the best ways to maintain or improve milk butterfat percentage, particularly important when supplying milk for cheese or yoghurt production or even when just trying to achieve a minimum butterfat level.

Vital Beeta can be fed at between 2-6 kg per head per day in adult lactating animals. Dry cows can be fed up to 2 kg per head per day and heifers and calves may be fed Vital Beeta up to 40% of their daily ration. Vital Beeta may be fed at any stage in conjunction with Vital Alfa. Animals fed a pelleted or grain-based ration require a minimum of 20% of their total intake in the form of a good quality hay. In changing any feeding regime introduce new diets slowly to build up to recommended intakes over a 14 day period. Introduce gradually and do not let pellet supply run out.

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