Feeding the machine
January 21, 2013
The world population is expected to exceed 9 billion people by the year 2050; this might be a hard thing to picture from the remote areas of a cattle pasture, but the reality is, these rare individuals, who live in seclusion with their immediate families and four-legged critters to keep them company, will be the ones who will take the charge in feeding this growing planet.
Jack Corless, managing director Rumsol Ltd., a consulting company based in Ireland, says to "feed the machine," farmers and ranchers must understand a few things to maximize productivity. He offered his insights on the state of the industry today and how U.S. agriculturalists can meet the growing demand for food around the world.
"One of the defining factors that is shaping our industry is volatility," he said. "We didn't really understand volatility in Europe until recently when we now see such huge fluctuations in milk prices because of consumer perceptions and demand. So, calf prices are rising and rising, but milk and beef prices are primarily determined by traders and other outside factors."
Sounds like cattlemen are doomed for struggle in the current economic environment, but Corless shared a more upbeat perspective.
"Let's be positive," he said. "The future of the beef and dairy industry is about demand. The huge increase in global demand from the food that we produce will help us in the upcoming years. The world population is growing by 80 million per year, with much of that coming from Asia."
Likewise, China's middle class will grow to 700 million people by 2020; they are going to want high-quality beef and dairy, Corless explained. Yet, there is a huge obstacle facing agriculturalists in meeting the growing demand for food and that's a decrease in available land.
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"The problem is the population is significantly rising while arable land has decreased 50 percent," he added. "The availability of land is the key limiting factor to the expansion of the global dairy and beef industries. Cash crops and ruminants are competing for this limited resource. Land is limited; forage is limited; and, concentrate feed is limited."
So, how does agriculture realize its potential to feed the masses? Corless explains.
"How do we achieve this potential?" he asked. "The sustainability of our business will depend on the maximum exploitation of the available resources and the application of logic to the science and economics of milk and beef production."
Corless examined two basic principles that can help producers reach their maximum efficiencies.
"Principle number one: Education. What I mean by this is to take a look at the potential of a cow and how it contributes to our ability to create food," he said. "The cost per cow per day is irrelevant. It's cost per liter of milk (or cost per pound of beef). Every machine has a maintenance cost. Native forage is the cheapest source of nutrients. If you look at any economic study done on the impact of the feed component of a dairy or beef herd, the cost anywhere is 50-60 percent of the costs. Managing our forages is going to be key to our profitability. If you can increase your output, improve reproduction, increase longevity, decrease metabolic disorders and better manage your replacements, you will be much more profitable."
"Principle number two: feed the rumen and feed the cow," he further explained. "Feed efficiency is imperative. We need to realize rumen potential. The cow is a ruminant, not a pig. The optimal way to produce meat and milk is through microbial protein and maximizing the use of microbial proteins in the rumen."
Corless suggests first adding a live yeast culture to stabilize the rumen and enhance rumen function. Second, "Synchrony is a simple concept; it means providing a sustained release of nitrogen for the manufacture of microbial protein from dietary fiber. Then provide fibrolytic enzymes to increase the release of fermentable energy from dietary fiber and feeding microbial protein to the liquid phase of the rumen to significantly increase the efficiency of utilization of protein."
Looking at this further, Corless added that, "The overfeeding of crude protein decreases fertility. We can actually reduce crude protein and get an increase of output. It also enhances immunity. We can also enhance embryo survivability by the addition of sustained release Omega 6 fatty acids (in the form of DHA – for example, algae) to the ruminant diet. If you look at the benefits of improving rumen potential, there are many including: increased milk output, enhanced fertility, reduced dietary protein, increased use of forage, higher milk casein, increased lean meat and reduced nitrogen excretion."
Yet, there are too many beef and dairy producers not taking advantage of the science, research and technology available in the cattle industry to improve the performance of their animals. Corless said it will be important for producers to educate themselves and better feed their rumen animals to be successful in the future.