Implementing Dairy Goat Nutrition Programs on Farms for Improved Sustainability
In working with dairy goat farmers, it was observed that they are unable obtain goat nutrition information and assistance in balancing their herds’ rations. This led 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 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 inefficient use of feed energy, 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 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.
The original projection was that 10 farms would participate in Year 1 and drop to 8 farms in year 2. In actuality, there were 9 farms in year 1 and 10 farms are currently enrolled to continue the study.
The goal of giving monthly ration balancing information to each farm being where data was collected (some farms were seasonal and totally dry during winter months) in the first year was not met due to significant delays and changes in resources. The ruminant nutritionist who co-authored the grant and was responsible for giving ration recommendations to the farmers left the employ of the University. A replacement was found who was an actual small ruminant nutritionist at another University but that person never followed through on the work and resigned in October 2005. It is interesting to note that this development in the research mirrors what is true in the field; a ruminant nutritionist that is schooled or interested in feeding goats is a rarity and those academic professionals who have the expertise in this field are often too busy to offer assistance.
Data collection continued even with the hiring and training of two new technicians to replace the first two that metered the milk, collected milk samples for analysis, measured body weights and body condition scores of the goats and summarized feed programs that the goats consumed.
After meeting twice with the advisory group consisting of representatives from the Vermont Dairy Herd Improvement Association (VTDHIA), Vermont Butter and Cheese Company (major purchaser of fluid milk), Poulin Grain and Cargill/Nutrena (grain companies) and the farmers participating in the study, a new plan was forged for the year ahead.
Milk metering and sampling would be contracted to VTDHIA.
PI will gather feed and goat body data.
A new ruminant nutritionist will be contracted with a signed agreement.
Presentations will be made at state and regional feed dealer meetings to raise the awareness of how to work with dairy goat farms.
Even with the challenges facing the study, progress was made and lessons learned in order to continue the study in a more practical fashion. Because financial resources were conserved in the past year, the study will be extended to fulfill the original goals. The new plan will improve the outcome for the following reasons.
Shifting the milk data collection to VTDHIA will, in effect, move the farmers closer to contracting with VTDHIA to continue milk sampling after the study is over. With the PI gathering goat and feed information directly, this will prevent any delay in receiving the data important for timely ration balancing recommendations. In the grant, the farmers buy grain from 6 different feed companies. Gains have been made to get the representative from the feed companies to provide forage analysis which is not always easily obtained. From the interaction the PI has had with feed company representatives and owners, there is more interest in providing the services that feed companies provide to dairy cow farmes. Plus, some of them have begun to compete for the business of the goat dairies which was unheard of in the past. More contact by the PI in the future will encourage more participation in ration balancing from feed companies
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Of the goat dairies that received ration balancing this past calendar year (end of grant year 1/beginning of grant year 2), 4 of the 5 rations summarized were in excess of the goats’ protein needs, 2 of the 5 were in excess of the goats’ energy needs, 1 of the 5 was deficient in the goats’ energy needs and 1 of the 5 was on target for both the energy and protein requirements of the goats. This study continues to show that over feeding of protein is the most common issue on goat dairies.
In response, farmers did adopt ration recommendations and were able to change their concentrates to a lower crude protein percent or to decrease the amount of grain fed.
Of the 6 feed companies supplying the farmers on the study, 3 are responding to requests for forage analysis and grain mix changes requested by the farmers.
Research Ruminant Nutritionist
University of Vermont
Department of Animal Science
302 Terrill Hall, 570 Main Street
Burlington, VT 05405
Office Phone: 8026560593