Rumen Efficiency

Maximising rumen efficiency in all ruminant livestock is critical to performance and profitability. This can lead to improvements in production, health, fertility and welfare.

There are perhaps three main areas which affect rumen efficiency:

1.     Forage quality and management

2.     Cows’ environment and management

3.     Diet balancing and feeding

Existing silage stock and quality cannot be changed but some thought and planning should now be given to next year’s silage production. Having higher quality silage and making more use of this in the diet is the best way forward and the way to reduce cost per litre. Table 1 below shows the increase in energy from an earlier cutting date and the extra milk produced per hectare (1346 litres). At farm level this is not always easy to achieve due to weather, but every day the sward goes past 50% ear emergence it will fall by 1/3 unit in D Value per day. A ten day delay is therefore a fall in 3 units in D Value. Even though first cut yields are lower, second cuts will normally compensate and be larger than when a late first cut is taken. Cutting early results in more, better quality silage over the season. If reseeding has to be carried out choose varieties from the Recommended or PPI lists.

Table 1.

Early Cutting

Conventional Cutting

1st Cut

2nd Cut

1st Cut

2nd Cut

ME (MJ/kg DM)





Yield (t DM/ha)





Total Yield (t DM/ha)



Energy Harvested (MJ)



Milk Yield potential








In an 8000 litre herd of cows, it will take approximately 2.2 tonnes extra silage per cow to move the forage fraction from 28% (average) of the diet to 45% of the total diet, with a significant cost saving on concentrates. Reducing waste in a silage clamp which is typically 15% will pay for itself. Even reducing this by half can save £7.00 per tonne of dry matter or £2.00 per tonne of fresh weight. This can be done by proper compaction at ensiling, using a crop and condition specific inoculant, side sheeting to reduce shoulder waste, double covering with a cling film and a silage sheet made from virgin raw materials, which will provide a better oxygen barrier and in turn less waste. Reducing waste will save on time spent removing waste at the silage face which should not be fed to stock due to the risk of mycotoxins.

Diet can have an impact on the 6-14-2-2 rule for dairy cows. This equals 6 hours eating, 14 hours resting (which includes 10 hours ruminating), 2 hours for milking and 2 hours for social behaviour. The aim is to get cows eating 10-12 times a day and this will be affected by palatability of the diet and availability of clean water (one drinking point for every 20 cubicles).

The next time you walk into your stock house check if a minimum of 60% of the cows not eating or sleeping are ruminating, this will give you an indication of rumen efficiency. If lower than this, possible problems may be a lack of effective fibre in the diet or limited intakes due to illness or poor palatability of the forage.

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