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Supplementary Feeding & Buffer Feeds at Grass

When high-quality grass is readily available, research has shown supplementary or buffer feeding will directly substitute grazing, therefore reducing grass intake. In general, forage has a high substitution rate, resulting in poor milk yield response if high-quality grass is replaced. The reduction in grass intake when silage is offered has shown to be almost 0.9kg DM for every 1.0kg DM fed. Although concentrates will also displace grazed grass, they do at a lesser rate. When a compound is fed, an increase of around 30-50% in daily DM intake can be observed. Concentrate supplements can improve milk protein content and give a yield response in higher-yielding cows.

Although low volumes of forage are normally consumed in spring, which have little effect on increasing milk yields, adding a forage buffer can often help maintain yields and milk butterfat levels when grass covers are low or grass quality is poor. As grazing becomes limited or weather becomes unfavourable and grass covers fall below target levels, a buffer forage should be offered to early lactation cows. You should target the best quality forage to lactation cows, ensuring good ME levels.


Supplementary feeding with concentrate or a blend is likely to be required if daily milk yields are in excess of 20 litres. Concentrate must be high quality with ME levels of at least 12ME (MJ/ Kg DM) and protein in the region of 14 to 16%, along with good levels of DUP/By-Pass protein. It should have digestible fibre, fermentable carbohydrates, and fermentable energy to balance grazed grass’s ERDP, and sufficient NDF to support butterfat and rumen health.


A mixture of blend and forage fed as a supplement to grazed grass can help maximise DM intakes and help balance total requirements. Targeting early lactation and higher-yielding cows will tend to give the best response. Offering twice daily for an hour has been shown to produce most milk from the lowest TMR intakes. TMR feeding is beneficial when grass is scarce and regrowth slow, reducing grass dependency.

By Paul Mardell, NWF Technical Development Manager

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