Skip to main content

Optigen delivers improved rumen function and profitability

Dairy farmer Ian McKnight with Richard Dudgeon, regional manager, Alltech Northern Ireland

Ian McKnight milks 180 pedigree Holstein cows along with his father Harry near Drumbo in Co. Down. Over many years, they have succeeded in building up several noteworthy bloodlines, with the ability to produce large volumes of high-quality milk.

Annual output currently stands at 9,600 litres per cow, with butterfat at 4.11% and protein averaging 3.39%. Due to the fragmented nature of the farm, grazing is not an option during the spring and summer months.

“We take three cuts of silage each year,” Ian explained. “The objective is to ensure that all the cows have access to high-quality forage throughout the year. Last year’s first cut is a case in point. It has an ME of 11.4 and a DMD value of 72.”

The cows in the Cairnrock herd calve year-round, with the milking group divided up into high- and low-yielding batches.

The high-yielding group is fed a TMR specified to give 36 litres of milk per day. The lower-yielding cows receive a TMR designed to provide 20 litres of milk per day.

“All the cows are fed nuts in the parlour to yield,” Ian explained. “The concentrate is offered at a rate of 0.4 kilograms per litre of additional milk produced.” 

Ian works closely with the team at Farmgate Nutrition to ensure that the diets fed to the cows are always on spec.

“Some months ago, I noticed that quite a lot of the maize was coming through in the cows’ dung,” he commented. “It was also obvious that a significant proportion of the fibre in the cows’ diet was coming through undigested.”

In response to this, FarmGate’s Gareth Anderson recommended that Ian replace a proportion of the soya in the TMR with Optigen® from Alltech, a concentrated, slow-release source of non-protein nitrogen.

“The decision to go down the Optigen road was taken two months ago,” Ian explained. “It was a simple change to make. The required 100 grams per head of Optigen was easily included in the meal mix we create on-farm. This is then added with grass silage to create our complete TMR.

“The results achieved have been very encouraging. The amounts of maize and undigested fibre coming through the dung have been greatly reduced, and our manure consistency is much smoother.

“What’s more, milk output and quality have been fully maintained in the last two months.”

Optigen: A reliable, protein alternative

Alltech’s regional manager for Northern Ireland, Richard Dudgeon, was a recent visitor to the McKnight farm.

“Utilisation of Optigen in the rumen is comparable to soya,” Richard explained. “The non-protein nitrogen, Optigen is broken down at a similar rate to soya, while it works more in the rumen and acts to boost the rumen population of those microbes that specifically break down fibre”.

“Including Optigen in diets allows for a reduction in the levels of traditional protein sources, such as soya. In turn, this provides an opportunity to increase the levels of forage and/or cereals that can be included in the cows’ rations.”

Along with performance benefits, Optigen also contributes to the overall sustainability of the operation. A Carbon Trust-accredited product, the inclusion of Optigen in cows’ feed is certified to decrease the global warming potential of that diet and improve nitrogen utilisation.

Ian is quick to confirm that the initial decision to include Optigen in the cows’ diets was made solely based on the product’s proven ability to improve rumen function. But in recent weeks, as soya availability has become a concern in Northern Ireland, it has highlighted another important benefit associated with this change.

“Including Optigen has allowed me to reduce soya levels in the diet by around 25%,” Ian explained. “Since making the change, soya prices have increased from £300 per tonne to over £400 per tonne. As a result, the use of Optigen has delivered a very significant cost saving for me on the farm.”

Richard Dudgeon confirmed that many dairy and beef farmers in Northern Ireland are enjoying the same benefits.

“It will take a significant period of time for protein markets to come back to previous levels,” he commented. “Optigen offers a unique and viable alternative to the traditional protein options while providing flexibility around diet formulation to maximise performance output and profitability. Given these circumstances, Optigen represents a win-win scenario.”