Implementing Dairy Goat Nutrition Programs on Farms for Improved Sustainability
Observation of a wide range of ways goat dairy farmers obtain nutrition information and apply it leads to the motivation for developing a consistent science-based ration balancing programs for these farms. Some feed companies formulate custom mixes based on dairy cattle data and other companies only sell one feed mix with set nutrient analysis regardless of the conditions on the farm. Few feed companies work closely with dairy goat farmers to accurately formulate their rations.
Demand for dairy goat products in Vermont has outstripped the state milk supply as noted by Vermont farmstead and company goat cheese makers. One barrier to profitable milk production is high feed costs, accounting for 55-65% of total production costs. Most feed manufacturers serving goat dairies formulate rations using dairy cattle nutrient requirements, because those published by the US National Research Council (NRC) for goats are dated. Farmers making cheese or shipping fluid milk are rewarded financially by milk protein content, and often feed high N rations in hopes that they will maximize their milk protein. Feeding improperly balanced N causes wasted N in the form of high milk and blood urea N (MUN/BUN), and ultimately high N urine which contributes to high levels of ammonia volatilization into the environment.
The E (Kika) de la Garza American Institute for Goat Research at Langston University, OK, has just published revised recommendations for metabolizable energy and protein requirements. Using these numbers, Ten farms will complete a one-year program that implements the recommended nutrition program involving their feed company nutritionists. Monthly measurements on milk production, components, MUN, feed nutrient analysis and costs, and animal weights and condition scores will be taken. In the second year, 8 dairy goat farmers will receive continued but lower assistance to assure they adopt the nutrition program. Results will be sent to farmers, Cooperative Extension contacts and feed manufacturers and dealers throughout the Northeast.
The essential elements of this research are to
1.Obtain recommendations for dairy goat metabolizable energy and protein requirements and enlist 10 farms willing to apply a nutrition program based on these requirements.
2. Implement a nutrition program on 10 farms based on monthly feed analysis, milk production, milk component and MUN testing. [12 months]
3. Continue program with 8 farms (2 farms will continue on their own or drop out) with quarterly feed analysis, milk production, milk component and MUN testing. [12 months]
4. Summarize data from study and share with Northeast Cooperative Extension contacts in 12 states and 5 or more feed companies. [8 months]
Performance Target 1: From a pool of 21 dairy goat farmers in Vermont, 10 will participate in the project and adopt recommended nutrition programs that are more profitable, improve milk production and utilize nutrients better for their improved sustainability.
Target 1 Assessment: In the project’s second year, 8 of the 10 farms will continue implementing the original study. A follow-up debriefing visit with the farmers and feed consultants after 2 years will provide a personal summation and written evaluation of the success and usefulness of the information. Comparison of data collected during the study including feed costs and milk production from years previous to the study will add determination of its success.
Performance Target 2: In the Northeast region, 3 feed companies and all 12 state extension programs will adopt the improved goat nutrition information and recommendations for use in their states. This will provide more consistent dairy goat nutrition recommendations and allow more support to those choosing family-friendly, diversified, small-farm goat operations.
Target Assessment 2: Information from this study will be placed on a website and reported in the Small Ruminant Dairy Newsletter. If appropriate, the Langston University’s goat website will be promoted to provide the nutrient requirement tables, if available. Otherwise, a Nutrition Program/Nutrient Requirements printed in Excel™ with a fact sheet will be sent to NE State extension contacts and feed company nutritionists with offers to present at annual meetings and conferences. Those receiving the information will be surveyed to assess the use and barriers to its use.
To enlist farmers, we advertised in the Small Ruminant Dairy Project Newsletter that reaches all the commercial goat dairy farms in Vermont and the environs. From that, we interviewed and signed up 9 commercial dairy goat operations ranging in size from 30 – 200 milking does. Ads for a technician were placed in local papers and we hired 2 technicians to split the territory which ranges over 4 counties in Vermont. Once we met with the farmers and they filled out and signed a form of understanding and gave us their financial and production data from the previous year, we started a schedule of once per month milk weighing and sampling and once per month body weights and condition scoring. Data collection started August 2004.
We changed the weighing and body condition scoring schedule to every other month instead of every month as changes in these areas in 30 days were not preceived as significant or useful in comparison to the time and effort involved.
An advisory committee of the PI, ruminant nutritionist, technicians, VT DHIA representative and 2 feed company representatives met before we started collecting farm data and once again a month after the collection started.
In the grant, we are working with 6 feed companies across all the farms. It was slow to get the feed reps involved to take feed samples for us as part of their normal service. Once forage and grain nutrient analysis were completed and farm data averaged, evaluations of the metabolizable protein and energy intake and requirements were done by ruminant nutritionist, Dr. Joanne Knapp of the University of Vermont Department of Animal Science. Letters were sent to all the farms making recommendations for any changes, if necessary, and a multiple of options were offered. Some farms were right on target and others were over feeding protein and one was underfeeding protein. The farmers have 7 more months of monthly data collection to finish their first year of participation. The second year will have only quarterly data collection.
We have found that a lot of farmers have no experience working with their feed companies and asking them for information that they normally provide to cow dairy farmers. Feed company sales representatives have not been trained in how to feed goats and their requirements. We offered 2 4-hour workshops in 2 different locations going over the information we are using and how to evaluate the rations for protein and energy. A handout is available along with one for body condition scoring and the mineral needs of goats. Most farmers on the study attended the workshops. This packet will be sent with a letter to the feed companies to help bridge the gap of information and get them to feel more comfortable working with goats on nutrition.
We are thinking of planning some trainings for the feed representatives in the springtime.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We enlisted 9 goat dairies out of a projected 10 into the study that we thought would work well in data collection and in implementing suggested feed changes. After a follow up phone call, 4 of the 9 farmers made changes either in amounts of concentrate fed or the % crude protein in their concentrate and lowered their feed costs.
This project will continue until 2007.
Research Ruminant Nutritionist
University of Vermont
Department of Animal Science
302 Terrill Hall, 570 Main Street
Burlington, VT 05405
Office Phone: 8026560593