• BreadCrumb

  • The Challenges of Modern Dairy Cow Management

    In our current social and political climate effective management of dairy cows faces several difficult challenges. Two of the most pressing challenges are feed costs and animal health. Both are further influenced by issues of sustainability, environmental impacts and reduction in the use of antibiotics.

    Feed costs present a challenge to the economics of milk production. One of the paradoxes of dairy cow nutrition is that a substantial part of the feed consumed is not efficiently utilized by the cow in terms of body growth or for milk production. A good example would be protein.

    Protein Utilisation Within the Dairy Cow

    Ruminants have an overall average efficiency of nitrogen (“protein”) utilization in the feed of only around 25% (Calsamiglia et al., 2010). Therefore, this low efficiency of nitrogen utilisation has two important consequences.
    Firstly, protein is an expensive feed ingredient so from an economic point of view the least amount needed the better. Obviously, better rates of nitrogen retention from the feed by the cow would allow for lower dietary protein levels to be fed.

    Cattle manure is rich in nitrogen that has not been utilised by the cow

    Secondly, 50% or more of the nitrogen in ingested protein is returned to the environment in manure.

    Effects of Nutrient Excretion on the Environment

    Nitrogen excreted by cattle leads to the evolution of ammonia and other noxious gases from animal housing and from the manure itself. Subsequently, agriculture contributes to about 80% of the total atmospheric ammonia emission in Europe. Another environmental issue is phosphorus pollution, particularly into rivers and lakes which can lead to eutrophication. In a study average phosphorus consumption of cattle throughout a lactation was 24.3 kg and excretion was 15.2 kg. This shows that over the entire lactation period phosphorus utilization was only 38% with 62% being excreted (Salizar et al., 2012). Clearly significant economic and environmental benefits are to be had from improving utilization of feed ingredients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

    Health Maintenance in Dairy Cows

    Additionally, good health is another important and desirable requirement in dairy cow management. Diseases in cattle can either be infectious or non-infectious or metabolic. The transition cow who is under metabolic stress is susceptible to several metabolic diseases such as milk fever, ketosis, subacute rumen acidosis (SARA) and even clinical acidosis.

    Traditionally, the health of dairy cows has relied extensively on antibiotics and other drugs and medicines to cure disease and return sick animals to health. An alternative approach is that of Health Maintenance where we develop strategies to avoid diseases. A Health Maintenance strategy to avoid diseases removes the need for antibiotics and other medicines.

    Nowadays, in practical reality, Health Maintenance is the only way forward. There is an increasing resistance by the consumer and by governments to the widespread use of antibiotics, particularly in the treatment of animals. This has been driven by concerns over antibiotic resistance and the fear that infectious diseases may become untreatable.

    To promote dairy cow productivity and health, efficient management of the rumen through feeding programmes and ingredient selection is critical (Dijkstra et al., 2012). Consequently, the first step in Health Maintenance of dairy cows is an appropriate feeding strategy that ensures optimal functioning of the rumen. Good rumen function will allow the cow to fully utilize the feed ingredients consumed, reduce metabolic diseases and support the immune system. Avoiding both metabolic and infectious diseases.

    How Glycal Forte® Can Help

    Bio-energy Ingredients recognised these challenges to modern dairy cow management. Their research programme subsequently led to the development of Glycal Forte® to support a Health Maintenance strategy. Various trials and studies show that Glycal Forte® can improve rumen microbial biomass, ensure appropriate levels of milk urea and keep rumen pH at a desirable level. These effects allow the dairy cow to more effectively digest the feed which supports cow health and productivity and ultimately farm profitability.

    Picture of a cow with milk - 4
    Glycal Forte® is based on the well-known nutrients, glycerol and calcium.

    Glycal Forte® is not a feed additive nor a veterinary medicine but an approved feed ingredient that plays a major role in ensuring optimal rumen function in the dairy cow. This will also support the sustainability of dairy cow management through better feed utilization and a reduced requirement for antibiotics.


    Calsamiglia, S., Ferret, A., Reynolds, C. K., Kristensen, N. B. and van Vuuren, A. M. (2010). Strategies for optimizing nitrogen use by ruminants. Animal, 4: 1184-1196, doi: 10.1017/S1751731110000911.

    Dijkstra, J., Ellis, J. L., Kebreabb, E., Stratheb, A. B., López, S., France J. and Bannink, A. (2012). Ruminal pH regulation and nutritional consequences of low pH. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 172: 22– 33.

    Hristov, A. N., Bannink, A., Crompton, L. A., Huhtanen, P., Kreuzer, M., McGee, M., Nozière, P., Reynolds, C. K., Bayat, A. R., Yáñez-Ruiz, D. R., Dijkstra, J., Kebreab, E., Schwarm, A., Shingfield, K. J., and Yu, Z. (2019). Nitrogen in ruminant nutrition: A review of measurement techniques. Journal of Dairy Science, 102: 5811–5852.

    Salazar, J. A. E. et al., (2013). Body phosphorus mobilization and deposition during lactation in dairy cows. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 97: 502–514.

    Velthof, G. L., van Bruggen, C., Groenestein, C. M., de Haan, B. J., Hoogeveen, M. W. and. Huijsmans, J. F. M. (2012). A model for inventory of ammonia emissions from agriculture in the Netherlands. Atmospheric Environment, 46: 248-255.