Discussion created on 03/28/2013

Grains of energy to Ruminants

Forum: Avoiding Grains to minimal level to Ruminants

Grains are the main source of energy to Ruminants as practiced today. But anatomically and physiologically ruminants are designed to digest roughages and fibrous feed to produce VFA's to meet out the major (70%) component of maintenance energy requirements. With the expectation of extra energy supplement for lactation, grains are being fed. But during the process, we create a challenge for animal to forcibly draw energy through grains. Grains are rich in starch and help in elevating and creating an environment to produce lactic acid. With the production of Lactic acid, own production of VFA's is reduced considerably. Reduction of Ruminal pH further affects the immune status adversely. See, wild animals who do not access to grains, hardly suffer with immune related diseases like FMD and others.

Can we utilize this experience to design a nutrition with minimal use of grains yet managing the energy requirements for production?

Sharma Madan Lal
Veterinary Doctor
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Dr. K.l. Dahiya Dr. K.l. Dahiya
Veterinary Doctor
May 19, 2013

By increasing the level of ether extract in the energy can be provided. But available EE are costlier and rate of milk production is lesser. Therefore, grains can be used in appropriate ratio in the ration. Further, rumen performance enhancers, buffers, alkalinisers could be used along sufficient amount of green fodder to reduce the chances of lactacidosis in dairy animals.

May 21, 2013

To me, 40:60 concentrate:roughage ratio would work much better otherwise minimizing grain level in the ration of dairy cows means production of more green house gases especially methane from the much greater fiber portion of the diet thus it would be environmentally unfriendly to minimize grains in the diets of lactating dairy cows. its, therefore, better to remedy the side effects of feeding grains say by use of rumen performance enhancers.

Nick Lyttle Nick Lyttle
Veterinary Doctor
May 21, 2013

There are no universally prescriptive solutions for this very important question. Commercially viable solutions that preserve milk production, enhance animal welfare and respect the environmental issues facing us all, regularly compete.

We're regularly advising our clients to add grain into their predominantly pasture diet to ensure sufficient levels of soluble carbohydrate (SCHO) immediately post calving. The majority of our herds are seasonally managed so calving is concentrated around the spring flush in pasture growth. At this time pasture protein levels rise dramatically and sub-clinical ketosis and negative energy balance are common. Suporting cows with SCHO in some form or other (molasses also offers a practical solution) assists in reducing the ketotic drivers.

With respect to greenhouse gas production. To decide on which course is better, an holisitic view must be taken to factor in the carbon cost of production of all the rumen performance enhancers, transport cost etc to get these physiological manipulators to where they are needed. Cost consideration must also be taken into account. A client recently decided he was better off not feeding his cows as much grain, reducing his milk production but improving his pasture utilisation (his cheapest source of dry matter for his herd). Working with the physiology and anatomy of the cow and supporting the external and internal ecosystems of the herd (soil and intestional flora and fauna) will lead to the most profitable, welfare positive, production positive and ultimately profitable results.

John Ainlay John Ainlay
Dairy producer
May 21, 2013
Can someone explain to me why you would choose to feed grains to an animal that naturally eats grass and legumes? I am fairly new to dairy (about 7 years) but we have never fed our animals any grain, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals or anything but what we grow in our pastures for them to graze. Does the grain increase milk production and are there side affects of feeding the animal something it was never intended to eat naturally?
May 22, 2013
Dr.Sharma has raised very valuable forum for discussion.I feel,if dairy nutritionists take active part in this forum,it will be much useful for all concerned.
Dr Muhammad Ramzan Dr Muhammad Ramzan
DVM. M. Phil
May 22, 2013
The digestive system of ruminants is for 100 % forage To meet the demand of protein and energy in the required DM Grains and concentrate ration is supplemented. if we opt for only forage diet then we have to see quality forage in Tthe shape of Alfalfa hay /Rhodes grass hay and maize silage.To me we shall feed ruminants with 70 % quality forage and 30% concentrate ration which shall fulfill DM,ENERGY AND PROTEIN.
Dr. Sanjeev  Ramchandra Pawar Dr. Sanjeev Ramchandra Pawar
M.V.Sc. (Animal Nutrition)
May 22, 2013

Just to maintain proper health of animals, yes, only roughage is to be fed to them to maintain proper ecosystem of rumen. However, to get more milk production we have to supply more Proteins, energy as per their production requirements. Energy is the most limiting nutrients in the diet of dairy animals. Cereal grains are cheaper source of energy but leads to lactoacidosis. Thus, grains has a limitation to fulfil & balance energy requirement. Under this circumstance, according to me, feeding bypass fat would be better choice. This will not hamper ruminal ecosystem as it is inert material in rumen and on the other hand bypass fat gives three times more energy then cereals. Although little costlier than cereals, it becomes economic at the end due to the returns in terms of milk production & milk fat % as well as maintaining proper health of the animals.

Nick Lyttle Nick Lyttle
Veterinary Doctor
May 22, 2013

This is an interesting discussion as it shows just how different farming is in different countries with different feed availability and different farming systems. There are only a few farmers in New Zealand feeding by-pass fat as an energy source. Grain is relatively economical source of energy (cheaper than by pass fat) to balance the excess protein from pasture - particularly in spring when most of our cows calve. At this time any form of fat would not be desirable in the diet as there is already an overload immediately post calving and the liver under pressure from internal fat mobilisation (the sub-clinical ketosis mentioned earlier). It is common for our pasture crude protien levels to exceed 25% and even over 30% in spring, so we do not have a problem with insufficient dietary protein. Energy is limiting in terms of digestive efficiency during this period. In terms of commercial value, our farmers are paid a premium for the protein component of their milk not the fat composition and this is not as easy to economically manipulate through dietary variation as is the milk fat. Finally in response to John's posting - a client's elderly farming friend in Ireland said to him " Son - it takes a lifetime to know a paddock" and in that context your "new to dairy farming" has merit, but in 7 years you have considerable experience. Feeding grain can increase milk production, but only if in doing so you are filling a dietary energy deficit and protein is not a limiting factor. There are downsides to feeding grain and these all arrive from three issues:
1) the feeding of grain is in such volumes that imbalance leads to proetin becoming the limiting dietary factor
2) the grain is added into the diet too quickly (rate of dietary change is too great) or
3) the amount fed at any one meal is excessive and grain overload occurs.
Generally these all result in the same process - acidification of the rumen reducing digestive efficiency, disturbing rumen microbe populations which has a host of graded results - the most severe of which is death.

John Ainlay John Ainlay
Dairy producer
May 22, 2013

Thank you all so much for your postings. nick, I really appreciate a New Zealand Point of View. We have some New Zealanders here in SouthWest Missouri...Focal Dairy/Grasslands Dairy. They have been a big part in teaching me things over the past few years. Kevin Vanderpool used to work there and was very helpful with my questions about dairy over the past few years. Since increased milk production is not a priority to us, it would appear that grains will not be a part of our future plans. We have been trying to mimic nature as close as possible. We have Jersey cows that are 15 years old and still producing calves and are in good health. We have also started to use coconut flakes as a part of a small feed ration that we give in the barn along with several other home grown products. We also feed alfalfa that has never been sprayed with any type of pesticide or herbicide in trying to maintain as natural a herd as possible.
You really hit it on the head with your comment about my paddocks. in our MOB grazing on our 200 acres, we have really become familiar with the types of grasses and legumes that lead to increased production and also seasonal health problems.
I still have so so much to learn but as long as people need RAW MILK we will be here trying to produce it in the healthiest way for our herd. Thanks again

Sharma Madan Lal Sharma Madan Lal
B.V.Sc & AH
May 22, 2013
Thanks, John for sharing your experience. Keeping the ruminant away from grains will definitely keep them in natural habitat. I strongly feel that let the rumen work what it is supposed to do. We should not damage the rumen function with the intention of boosting energy for production only. Energy is extremely important for Maintenance (depending on size of animal), Production (depending on density of milk alveoli in udder - breed character) and Reproductive needs. Mostly underfed energy levels to high producing animal abort at 6-7 month of pregnancy and vets try to relate with Brucellosis. Until or unless we find putrefied (embedded with pus) foetus, we should not suspect brucella invasion. Real underlying cause for abortion or stillbirth is deficiency of energy needs which goes high around 6 month of pregnancy owing to development of various organ formation of calf. Source of compact and condensity of energy source must be taken care of. As animals have limited capacity of rumen. So content of feed becomes extremely important. Oils and fat are compact source of energy almost 3 times higher than grains. Dosage and form of oils should be decided on production capacity which can be measured by flushing or challenge feeding in transition and adaptation phase.
Nitin Tyagi Nitin Tyagi
Animal Nutritionist
May 23, 2013

Hi All, Its quite a good discussion going on in the forum, I wish to add few words. The ration formulation for a dairy cow mainly depends on its physiological needs and availability of feed ingredients. due to ,around 5000 year of selection and crossbreeding programmes the production level of present breeds and animals is usually on the higher side then it was some years back. The intake capacity of the animal also depends on feed type and physiological status. Now with this background, as the milk production level of the animal increases we have to increase the nutrient intake. as the intake capacity of animal is limited after certain level of production it becomes necessary to add concentrates to increase the nutrient density of ration. Although it is not the natural feed of animal but we should also think that usually mammals produce milk only for their own young ones. We are using the milk by ruminants for our self. While formulating diet if we consider the NDF content, CP, Energy and minerals only then we can optimise the roughage portion in ration.

Nick Lyttle Nick Lyttle
Veterinary Doctor
May 23, 2013
A couple of comments on the recent postings.John, your philosophy is closely aligned with mine. We have many organic clients in both dairy (cows and goats ) and dry stock. One of the issues we see here with grain feeding (and this was the foundation of our consultancy business) is the very low levels of most trace elements meaning the greater the percentage of the diet the more supplementation required. John, if you have not, I'd encourage you to have your pastures tested for a complete mineral profile including all trace elements. Embracing nature is ideal and you've achieved great success from what you describe. There are reports that over the course of a year, a wild buffalo will consume over 100 different species (probably an understatement) and that compares with probably less than 10-15 being generous in our intensive pastoral farming here. The key restriction with your focus on natural production lies in your soils, (chemistry, physics and biology (soil flora and fauna)). If your soils are depleted or deficient in any mineral this will be your major limiting factor. Dr Sharma, if abortion or stillborth is a major problem, please consider the effect of deficiency of two trace elements - iodine and selenium. I am not sure of the levels of selenium in your area but I understand iodine deficiency in humans was such a problem a National Iodine Deficiency Disorders Control Programme. We have had one case with 5% stillbirths in a herd not long after a dietary change that completely changed the iodine supply levels. They were borderline to start with and the dietary change tipped the balance. Selenium is an essential co-factor in the thyroid use of iodine from inactive to active thyroid hormone conversion and this is related to the whole energy issue you describe. You may well have covered this off, but if not, it may be worth considering.
May 24, 2013
Well, this thread is proving to be quite interesting and many different dimensions of the issue have been brought to light through this discussion. My trade is not animal nutrition but from a different perspective, I have a comment to make. This is the global FOOD SECURITY situation which has been exacerbated by the use of grains for ethanol production and rapid population growth, as well as poor management of grain produce both in the developed and developing countries. In this case scenario where both children and adults are suffering from malnutrition and consequent health issues, feeding of grains to livestock for higher milk or meat production adds to causing food grain shortages and price hikes globally.

In addition, forced genetic improvement and modifications to increase livestock productivity by corporate genetics from the North and its flow to the South is another important factor which causes intensively farmed animals (poultry and livestock) to need higher energy levels to offset their maintenance and production requirements of growth and milk production. Although this contributes to ensuring food security through the production of more milk and meat relatively at low prices but paradoxically contributes to food grain shortage due to human - animal competition.

This is also worth mentioning that for 90% of world middle and poor class population, food grains serve as the major source of their staple diet except for a RICH DINING with plenty of animal food sources as a part of their regular diet. Due to this imbalance of rich and poor dynamics the richer are suffering from serious health issue to excessive use of meat and dairy foods as against the poorer who suffer from energy deficiency due to price hikes in wheat and other staple grains.

In view of these considerations, there needs to be short, medium and longterm strategies in place to gradually develop a system where we can strike a balance between our commercial and ethical/humanitarian responsibilities through at least alleviate hunger, malnutrition and its consequent death loss especially in children and developing animals most feed efficient for equivalent milk and meat production
Dr. K.l. Dahiya Dr. K.l. Dahiya
Veterinary Doctor
May 24, 2013
Good twist in the discussion. There must be a change in use of grain feeding to livestock to check health status of richer and poor. I had seen the families who are unable buy the sufficient amount of milk (even half liter). These families don't fulfill the requirement of IMCR and requirement fulfilling families (the rich) are facing the serious health problems. There the livestock industry should work on
1. Reduced use of grains
2. Feed conversion efficiency
3. ..................
Nnrao Nnrao
Dairy producer
May 26, 2013
Very interesting discussion.I would like to add one more point at this stage It is the need of the hour as the prices of grains are shooting up and milk prices are going down globally experienced veterinary doctors ,nutritionists and formers together should thiink and come out with a solution to replace grains with suitable fodder varieties such that input cost to cut down.
Abdulhadi Basaran Abdulhadi Basaran
Veterinary Doctor
June 1, 2013
To Dr Sharma;
I read carefully the opinions, written in forum by some researchers and farmers.
Can I get some information about roughage and milk yields of dairy cattle in your country before sharing my ideas?
Ratan Sukhadeo Jadhav Ratan Sukhadeo Jadhav
B.V.Sc.and A.H .;M.Sc.Extention.
June 4, 2013
In concentrate ration also most of the company using grain to supplement energy . In tropical and subtropical countries energy requirement is more because of High temperature .Enery reqiured to mentain body temperature . From my opinoiun energy suplmentation through grain is important ,Instead of fresh grain mash we tried fedding of sprouted grains which resulted in increase in 2 lit of milk per day per animal in early lactation hence feeding of sprouted grains are deffinately usefull for crossbred and buffaloes to boost of milk yield in Indian condition because fodder is low quality .Grains will not only produce lactic acid but it also promot production of [propionic acids in the rumen during fermentation which improve the glucose synthesisi and milk yield will increase .If the concentrate is more that 50% of total diet on dry matter basis then there will limitation on feeding of grains .But in Indian condition No one feeding more that 50% concentrate on dry matter basis & roughages are more in the ration of cows and buffaloes .

Dr. Jadhav R.S.
Subject matter specialist (vety.science )
KVK,Baramati,Pune ,Maharashtra
Dr. Chandan Prasad Dr. Chandan Prasad
MBA (Agribusiness management), B.V.Sc & A.H.
July 10, 2013
To some extent, I agree with Dr. Madan. But at the same time, this is not feasible in entire geography of India or the world, because Good quality forage is not available everywhare throughout the year. Second thing, only forage feeding can not be at par with grain mixed feeding in terms of milk production. I had been a part of such project, where no concentrate was fed to animals and they were kept only on greens. Per animal productivity in that farm was about 14-15 lit per day, while highest milk production per cow in India is approx 55 Lit/day from Punjab, which was kept on grain base. As per farm economics justification, a fine balance of concentrate and roughage is always better that any other method for a commercial dairy farm.

I also don't think that viral diseases like FMD was less in case of wild cattles, because even now wild ruminant (deers and antelopes) are suffering from FMD and they act as carrier for this disease. Incidences of metaboilic disorders are certainly increasing, which are mainly due to faulty management systems in farm.

I think a combination feeding with good managemnet is always superior than any other method for better profitability.
January 4, 2014
Answer is quite simple. A report on similar topic has also been published in China. If you want to increase production you have to feed quality nutrients. On forage you have to accept available production. Keeping in view Ruman capacity you can met the high yields requirements, so you have to opt grains.
Dr. Zahi Dr. Zahi
D.V.M , M.phill (pathology)...
January 27, 2014
Ruminant Feeding Types
Based on the diets they prefer, ruminants can be classified
into distinct feeding types: concentrate selectors,
grass/roughage eaters, and intermediate types. The
relative sizes of various digestive system organs differ
by ruminant feeding type, creating differences in feeding
adaptations. Knowledge of grazing preferences
and adaptations amongst ruminant livestock species
helps in planning grazing systems for each individual
species and also for multiple species grazed together
or on the same acreage.
Concentrate selectors have a small reticulorumen
in relation to body size and selectively browse trees
and shrubs. Deer and giraffes are examples of concentrate
selectors. Animals in this group of ruminants
select plants and plant parts high in easily digestible,
nutrient dense substances such as plant starch, protein,
and fat. For example, deer prefer legumes over grasses.
Concentrate selectors are very limited in their ability to
digest the fibers and cellulose in plant cell walls.
Grass/roughage eaters (bulk and roughage eaters)
include cattle and sheep. These ruminants depend on
diets of grasses and other fibrous plant material. They
prefer diets of fresh grasses over legumes but can adequately
manage rapidly fermenting feedstuffs.
Grass/roughage eaters have much longer intestines
relative to body length and a shorter proportion of
large intestine to small intestine as compared with concentrate
Goats are classified as intermediate types and prefer
forbs and browse such as woody, shrubby type plants.
This group of ruminants has adaptations of both concentrate
selectors and grass/roughage eaters. They
have a fair though limited capacity to digest cellulose
in plant cell walls.
Carbohydrate Digestion
On high-forage diets ruminants often ruminate or
regurgitate ingested forage. This allows them to “chew
their cud” to reduce particle size and improve
digestibility. As ruminants are transitioned to higher
concentrate (grain-based) diets, they ruminate less.
Once inside the reticulorumen, forage is exposed
to a unique population of microbes that begin to ferment
and digest the plant cell wall components and
break these components down into carbohydrates and
sugars. Rumen microbes use carbohydrates along with
ammonia and amino acids to grow. The microbes ferment
sugars to produce VFAs (acetate, propionate,
butyrate), methane, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon
dioxide. The VFAs are then absorbed across the rumen
wall, where they go to the liver.
Once at the liver, the VFAs are converted to glucose
via gluconeogenesis. Because plant cell walls are
slow to digest, this acid production is very slow.
Coupled with routine rumination (chewing and
rechewing of the cud) that increases salivary flow, this
makes for a rather stable pH environment (around 6.0).
High-Concentrate Feedstuffs (Grains)
When ruminants are fed high-grain or concentrate
rations, the digestion process is similar to forage digestion,
with a few exceptions. Typically, on a high-grain
diet, there is less chewing and ruminating, which leads
to less salivary production and buffering agents’ being
produced. Additionally, most grains have a high concentration
of readily digestible carbohydrates, unlike
the more structural carbohydrates found in plant cell
walls. This readily digestible carbohydrate is rapidly
digested, resulting in an increase in VFA production.
The relative concentrations of the VFAs are also
changed, with propionate being produced in the greatest
quantity, followed by acetate and butyrate. Less
methane and heat are produced as well. The increase
in VFA production leads to a more acidic environment
(pH 5.5). It also causes a shift in the microbial population
by decreasing the forage using microbial population
and potentially leading to a decrease in digestibility
of forages.
Lactic acid, a strong acid, is a byproduct of starch
fermentation. Lactic acid production, coupled with the
increased VFA production, can overwhelm the ruminant’s
ability to buffer and absorb these acids and lead
to metabolic acidosis. The acidic environment leads to
tissue damage within the rumen and can lead to ulcerations
of the rumen wall. Take care to provide adequate
forage and avoid situations that might lead to
acidosis when feeding ruminants high-concentrate
diets. Acidosis is discussed in detail in Mississippi
State University Extension Service Publication 2519,
“Beef Cattle Nutritional Disorders.” In addition, energy
as a nutrient in ruminant diets is discussed in detail
in Mississippi State University Extension Service
Publication 2504, “Energy in Beef Cattle Diets.”
Protein Digestion
Two sources of protein are available for the ruminant
to use: protein from feed and microbial protein from
the microbes that inhabit its rumen. A ruminant is
unique in that it has a symbiotic relationship with
these microbes. Like other living creatures, these
microbes have requirements for protein and energy to
facilitate growth and reproduction. During digestive
contractions, some of these microorganisms are
“washed” out of the rumen into the abomasum where
they are digested like other proteins, thereby creating a
source of protein for the animal.
All crude protein (CP) the animal ingests is divided
into two fractions, degradable intake protein (DIP)
and undegradable intake protein (UIP, also called
“rumen bypass protein”). Each feedstuff (such as cottonseed
meal, soybean hulls, and annual ryegrass forage)
has different proportions of each protein type.
Rumen microbes break down the DIP into ammonia
(NH3) amino acids, and peptides, which are used by
the microbes along with energy from carbohydrate
digestion for growth and reproduction.
Protein digestion in the ruminant
Excess ammonia is absorbed via the rumen wall and
converted into urea in the liver, where it returns in the
blood to the saliva or is excreted by the body. Urea toxicity
comes from overfeeding urea to ruminants.
Ingested urea is immediately degraded to ammonia in
the rumen.
When more ammonia than energy is available for
building protein from the nitrogen supplied by urea,
the excess ammonia is absorbed through the rumen
wall. Toxicity occurs when the excess ammonia overwhelms
the liver’s ability to detoxify it into urea. This
can kill the animal. However, with sufficient energy,
microbes use ammonia and amino acids to grow and
The rumen does not degrade the UIP component
of feedstuffs. The UIP “bypasses” the rumen and
makes its way from the omasum to the abomasum. In
the abomasum, the ruminant uses UIP along with
microorganisms washed out of the rumen as a protein
source. Protein as a nutrient in ruminant diets is discussed
in detail in Mississippi State University
Extension Service Publication 2499, “Protein in Beef
Cattle Diets.”
Importance of Ruminant Livestock
The digestive system of ruminants optimizes use of
rumen microbe fermentation products. This adaptation
lets ruminants use resources (such as high-fiber forage)
that cannot be used by or are not available to other
animals. Ruminants are in a unique position of being
able to use such resources that are not in demand by
humans but in turn provide man with a vital food
source. Ruminants are also useful in converting vast
renewable resources from pasture into other products
for human use such as hides, fertilizer, and other inedible
products (such as horns and bone).
One of the best ways to improve agricultural sustainability
is by developing and using effective ruminant
livestock grazing systems. More than 60 percent
of the land area in the world is too poor or erodible for
cultivation but can become productive when used for
ruminant grazing. Ruminant livestock can use land for
grazing that would otherwise not be suitable for crop
production. Ruminant livestock production also complements
crop production, because ruminants can use
the byproducts of these crop systems that are not in
demand for human use or consumption. Developing a
good understanding of ruminant digestive anatomy
and function can help livestock producers better plan
appropriate nutritional programs and properly manage
ruminant animals in various production systems.

Church, D. C. ed. 1993. The Ruminant Animal Digestive Physiology and Nutrition. Waveland Press, Inc. Prospect Heights, IL.
Oltjen, J. W., and J. L. Beckett. 1996. Role of ruminant livestock in sustainable agricultural systems. J. Anim. Sci. 74:1406-1409.
Parish, J. A., M. A. McCann, R. H. Watson, N. N. Paiva, C. S. Hoveland, A. H. Parks, B. L. Upchurch, N. S. Hill, and J. H. Bouton. 2003. Use
of non-ergot alkaloid-producing endophytes for alleviating tall fescue toxicosis in stocker cattle. J. Anim. Sci. 81:2856-2868.
Van Soest, P. J. 1987. Nutritional Ecology of the Ruminant. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY.

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