New evaluation tool can help manage starch and fiber digestionPrint
By Bill Seglar
Most nutritionists and dairy producers would love to have a window into the cow’s rumen to tell exactly how the ration is working or how a minor change in feedstuffs might impact overall production. The Fermentrics system brings us one step closer to that vision.
1) What is Fermentrics and how does it work?
Instead of using lab values as proxies for animal performance, the Fermentrics system looks at starch and fiber digestion in the animal by measuring the gas produced when feed or TMR samples are incubated with rumen fluid in the laboratory. By monitoring gas production of the feed, the Fermentrics system can characterize the starch and fiber into two carbohydrate pools: a fast pool and a slow pool.
The fast pool primarily consists of starch digestion, though some fiber digestion occurs at this stage, too. The slow pool is predominantly fiber digestion, but again some starch can also be in the slow pool. Fermentrics measures the growth of rumen microbes and reports a measured microbial biomass (MBP) value.
2) What makes Fermentrics unique?
Fermentrics measures what is actually going on in the cow’s rumen vs. relying on predictions of digestive performance. It uses a highly automated system where individual feeds or TMR samples are combined with rumen fluid in a closed vessel for 48 hours, resulting in 5,000 data points per sample. This data then shows:
• Actual rates of digestion of the B1, B2 and B3 carbohydrate pools
• Growth of the microbial biomass (in other words, how rumen organisms react to that feedstuff or TMR)
• A unique microbial approach to measuring soluble protein.
3) How do I put the “fast pool” and “slow pool” data to work on my farm?
A recent example was a herd transitioning to new-crop corn silage. They were experiencing low intakes, stiff manure and reduced milk production. The Fermentrics analysis showed extremely high gas production in the TMR, suggesting that the cause of the excessively fast “fast pool” was the B2 (soluble fiber) pool producing lots of methane and CO2 from rapidly digested soluble fiber rather than from fermentable starch (B1). Supplementing this TMR with additional soluble fiber sources would only result in more gas production and not the energy needed by the rumen bacteria.
In this situation, more energy from starch to produce more propionate (whose pathway does not produce gas) was needed to drive energy for increasing microbial biomass and improving milk production. The herd responded positively to the addition of starch and the removal of some mature, high dry matter alfalfa silage. Traditional forage or TMR analyses would not have pointed the nutritionists to this solution.
Field experience with hundreds of herds facing production challenges shows the vast majority are fed a TMR with an excessively fast “fast pool” and a relatively slow “slow pool.” This is typically from feeding too much rapidly digested starch sources to make up for the lack of energy in forages with low fiber digestibility. Having a better understanding of the rates of fast and slow pool carbohydrates can help nutritionists avoid the prevalent incidences of acidosis in the dairy industry.
4) What is Fermentrics’ utility if the cows are performing well?
When cows are performing well, a Fermentrics report on that TMR can serve as a benchmark for future ration modifications. If production falters or the cows begin to show signs of acidosis, you can compare the current Fermentrics report to the benchmark and find ways to correct the problem.
Fermentrics reports are also an effective way to profile forages and better understand the importance of forage quality and additives designed to improve forage digestibility.
5) With such a new tool, what else is being done to provide ongoing testing and program refinement?
Fermentrics was first launched in the US market at the October 2010, World Dairy Expo in a business collaboration between Dairyland Laboratories and RFS Technologies. Several companies, including Pioneer, have been working with Fermentrics for several years in assessing forage quality and troubleshooting rations.
As the database of samples increases, so does the understanding of gas fermentation and its impact on animal performance. To further enhance the accuracy, precision and field utility of Fermentrics, RFS Technologies and Dairyland Laboratories have created an advisory board of industry nutritionists, veterinarians and academics. The advisory board is helping to refine Fermentrics methodologies and reported analytes to make Fermentrics more applicable to the needs of consulting nutritionists.
• Dr. Bill Seglar is a senior nutritionist/veterinarian at Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont, based in Johnston, Iowa. Contact him via phone at 515-535-6674; e-mail at email@example.com;or visit www.pioneer.com/home/site/us/livestock-feed-nutrition/.