Ruminant nutritionists say a national shortage of sodium bicarbonate is exacerbating acidosis problems on many UK dairy units.
Many UK dairy cows are acidotic this winter because of high cereal diets and a shortage of sodium bicarbonate.
Reports from DairyCo suggest as many as half of all UK dairy cows are thought to be suffering from sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and consultants stress the problem is getting worse on some farms because cereals are cheap to feed and they have been unable to secure supplies of the traditional rumen buffer.
However, independent nutritionist Dr Steve Taylor says a rapidly soluble rumen buffer like sodium bicarbonate is not necessarily the best solution to acidosis problems, so the current supply issue is actually a good opportunity to review rations.
“The immediate response to an acidosis problem is to reach for a buffer, usually sodium bicarbonate, for inclusion in the feed. However, in a TMR diet rich in wet silage, sodium bicarbonate can lose its effects as early as in the feeder wagon and can therefore be unable to influence rumen pH,” he says.
“Inclusion in compound does provide some protection, but even with out-of-parlour feeding systems, conventional soluble buffers included within concentrate feeds react very quickly when they reach the rumen. This means their benefits are lost long before the acidity really starts to increase as the rumen fermentation proceeds.”
Dr Taylor advocates the use of a rumen conditioner rather than a straight soluble buffer. “Specialist rumen conditioners like Acid Buf only break down when acid levels rise. This means its inclusion in the main ration will not adversely affect non acidotic cows, but will prevent rumen pH falling below 5.5 in milkers suffering an acidosis challenge.”
Dr Derek McIlmoyle, technical director with AB Vista, says the company is getting a lot of reports of acidosis from dairy and beef farms. “There’s an abundance of cheap cereals around and farmers are trying to feed as much as they can to their own livestock. This is understandable, but feeding high cereal levels will predispose cattle to acidosis.
“However, feedback on the inclusion of Acid Buf has been very positive where it has been used to help farmers feed higher levels of cereals. It’s a slow release rumen conditioning product and is particularly useful at holding rumen pH within the optimum range. Its use helps the rumen microbes to produce the right balance of VFAs (propionate and acetate) for maximum milk output and quality across the whole herd.”
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