WHEN we think of the ‘big’ dairying regions of the world, South America wouldn’t typically feature in the discussion and with climatic and geographical challenges across the continent it’s no surprise that production systems and output vary greatly from country to country.
The dairying system in Peru is certainly worthy of attention with production systems, and particularly diets, being different from what I have experienced in any other region of the world. Although the total dairy cow population is just under 900,000 head, it is estimated that less that one-third of these are in ‘organised’ farm set-ups. In general Peruvian farmers are seeking to expand and develop.
However lack of nutritional knowledge hampers major improvements and, coupled with a poor forage base, animals are challenged to achieve the most crucial aspect of intake – energy, plain simple Megajoules.
At Volac Wilmar, a joint venture between Cambridge-based family-owned nutrition company Volac International and Singapore-based vegetable oil processor Wilmar International, we have a strong interest in these developing markets and providing the knowledge and nutritional support to improve the dairy sector.
Unique to Peru, in my experience, is the nature of the farms. Many of the large farms – up to 3,000 cows on the largest units – are part of the large vegetable growing industry and were established to make use of ‘waste’ from that side of the business.
As such, the common base forages on the northern Peruvian farms are asparagus tops remaining following harvest of the valuable asparagus and maize stems post-removal of cobs for human food. What is particularly striking is the extent of manual labour involved; lorries arrive daily at each farm, with fresh forage being loaded and unloaded by hand and the maize being manhandled into a chopper before feeding.
Other vegetable ‘forage’ by-products include artichokes and peaches. Diet feeders are the norm on these larger farm units to mix the variety of ingredients.
No surprise then that the primarily Holstein cows, with US genetics common, fail to consume sufficient energy. With these low fibre and high starch diets milk fat readings of 3.6 per cent and below are common. In some cases milk fat: milk protein inversions are seen. Clear indications of low energy intake and the ‘wrong’ type of energy leading to acidosis and ketotic influences.
Coupled with fairly extreme heat stress in the summer months, intakes are challenged, exacerbating metabolic issues and, not uncommon to our own dairy herds, maintaining cow fertility is a major challenge. Whilst farmer-reported milk yields of 8-10,000 litre plus per lactation initially sounds impressive, this is often achieved with particularly-extended lactations; in some cases farms reporting over 200 days open.
Lessons to learn:
While farmers must work with what’s available in the region, concentrating on the basics of nutrition in terms of balancing the macro-nutrients and energy supply from different sources would clearly pay dividends. Ensuring feed is pushed up and available to cows was in some cases absent on Peruvian farms experiencing real issues, and supplementation of the low-energy forages was not balanced to achieve maximum likelihood of success.
Fatty acid nutrition, our key specialism, reflected what was commercially available at the time rather than based on the most-appropriate supplement type as proven by scientific research – ‘high-C16’ supplements in triglyceride form are not a good buy due to the well-proven poor digestibility with this type of supplement, especially through the early lactation period.
Coarse-grained calcium salt supplements support effective transfer of the unsaturated oleic (C18:1) fatty acid through to the small intestine required to improve fat digestion, influence nutrient partitioning for improved body condition and to improve fertility; the key fatty acid for early lactation cows. Fine-grained products as currently available are much less effective in this regard.
The ‘modern’ farms are primarily located along the Pacific west coast in practical desert conditions, the clouds having dumped their rain on the tropical eastern side of the Andes. Feedlot-type corrals constructed from low-cost materials are the norm and the degree of uniformity from farm to farm in terms of construction and diet types is striking!
With one milk processor having a largely-monopolistic position in Peru, increasing milk price at farm level is somewhat difficult. Thus increasing the emphasis on getting nutrition right to maximise returns from the contract, particularly through increasing milk fat per cent from more physically-effective fibre (availability is, however, a challenge), less high-free oil by-products, careful control of starch and suitable rumen-protected fatty acids at different stages of lactation.
A great example here of a need to concentrate on doing the basics right – when lack of megajoules is the key factor, maximising energy intake is the factor to work on and production and fertility performance will improve.