MANURE: Suzanne Roth washes a manure sample through different size sieves to show how well feed has been digested.
MANURE: Suzanne Roth washes a manure sample through different size sieves to show how well feed has been digested.

The study of manure is serious business

WHEN going to a function most people take along a cake or sandwiches.

A Young Dairy Network animal health workshop asked dairy farmers to bring along manure samples and these came in ice cream containers, plastic bags, and buckets, with the most realistic as far as removal being in a long rubber glove.

Speaker Suzanne Roth from Alltech animal nutrition said that a lot can be learnt from an animal’s manure and observing the cow and knowing what to look for.

“Cows will tell it all by behaviour and never lie,” Ms Roth said. “It is up to us to be able to understand what they are trying to tell us.”

A common problem with cows being grain fed can be acidosis. This can be fatal in extreme stages, but certainly reduces production and can take four weeks to recover. By looking for behavioural change signs it can be picked up and the problem nipped early.

“Once acidosis becomes acute an animal has a smelly, bubbly, grey/blue manure and treatment is urgent.” Ms Roth said. “An early sign is a drop in milk fat content.”

In hot weather rumen activity slows because digestion increases body heat. A panting or drooling cow can lose large amounts of essential elements such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, that reduces the buffering capacity of the rumen and acidosis can occur.

Ms Roth said that the biggest problem in keeping the digestive process going along well is when the rye grass season starts as it takes the bugs time to adapt to a high nutrition and water content.

Ms Roth recommended counting the cows in the herd that are chewing their cud, if it is over half they are mostly content.

“It is all about keeping a eye on what is happening,” she said. “Know your cattle, know what is different, and get an early warning of problems.”

Manure that make a “clapping” sound when it hits concrete in the dairy or feed out area shows that things are going OK. A healthy pad should be about 2-3cm thick, hold its shape and have a slight depression in the centre.

If height increases to about 5cm the animal probably needs more fibre in the diet. Fibre content has a bearing on milk fat so adding it can increase fat content.

Very obvious manure problems can indicate serious health issues such as acidosis and a salmonella infection.

Ms Roth and Ross Warren, DAFF, put manure samples through a series of 10-20 and 50 size mesh to show how well feeds have been digested

The more retained in the finer mesh indicates the better the digestive process.