Chautauqua Lake dairy farms evaluate feed management for watershed protection

Special to the OBSERVER

JAMESTOWN — In order to protect water quality, Chautauqua Lake watershed stakeholders are engaged in efforts on many fronts to minimize nutrient runoff from entering the lake.

Watershed farmers have been implementing nutrient and sediment control best management practices for several years in order to address agriculture’s potential contributions.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County, in cooperation with the Conservation District’s Agricultural Environmental Management Program, recently worked with five of the seven existing watershed dairy farms to assess the precision of feeding protein and phosphorus in the cow’s ration.

Nutrient management planning for a farm involves three main components. The first component is the movement and quantity of nutrients entering, leaving and remaining on the farm. Second is the nutrient requirement of the plants in the crop rotation, and third is the distribution of nutrients to meet crop requirements. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and other nutrients are brought onto farms in feed and fertilizer. The objective of this project was to assess whether dairy farms are bringing more nutrients onto the farm through imported feeds than are needed to support crop growth.

All of the participating farms feed their lactating dairy herd a Total Mixed Ration (TMR), which provides all feedstuffs mixed together using scales to provide accurate weights. Three of the farms also provide a portion of the ration by grazing their cows to provide additional high-quality grass pasture. All forages fed to these farms are homegrown, including corn silage, haylage and dry hay. The farms purchase grain supplements to include in the rations, with three farms growing some grains such as grain corn, high-moisture corn or snaplage. Minerals are also added to the TMR on the farms to provide a well-balanced dairy ration.

Four of the farms consult with a professional dairy nutritionist, who visits the farms on a regular basis to take samples of feedstuffs for analysis, observe the cattle, review feeding management practices and provide ration recommendations to the farmers. The remaining farmer has dairy nutrition experience and personally balances their own farm’s dairy ration.

Of the five participating farms, four provided feed ration details. In evaluating their feed program information, it was determined that three farms feed less protein than is recommended by the National Research Council (NRC). One farm is meeting the NRC requirements and is within the recommended range. All four farms demonstrated that phosphorus is being balanced and fed within the range recommended by the NRC. No overfeeding of protein or phosphorus was evident on the farms that provided ration details.

Properly balancing a dairy farm’s feed ration and feeding management can help reduce the import of feed nutrients to the farm and reduce the excretion of these nutrients in the dairy cow’s manure. Four out of five participating farms were able to provide data to demonstrate that they balance the farm’s ration on a regular basis to decrease the quantity of purchased grains, maintain the desired level of milk production and herd health, and work to avoid overfeeding nutrients.

Precision feeding ensures that the nutrients contained in dairy feeds are balanced with what the cow needs. As a result, the amount of excess nutrients brought onto the farm is minimized so that nutrients do not over-accumulate in soils and potentially run off into nearby waterways. All of the participating farms work with other industry professionals such as the Chautauqua County Soil & Water Conservation District, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and Western New York Crop Management Association to ensure that the crop nutrients applied to their fields are balanced to meet without exceeding crop requirements, thereby addressing another key component of the Chautauqua Lake watershed’s health.

The Agriculture Program is one of many programs offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. CCE-Chautauqua is a community-based educational organization, affiliated with Cornell University, Chautauqua County Government, the New York state SUNY system and the federal government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

For more information, call 664-9502 or visit the website at