Precision dairy nutrition has been defined as the use of information technology to optimize economic, social and environmental farm performance. Sustainability of food production systems improves based on the impact of global population, resource, and climate dynamics. With the increasing trend in raw material prices, the losses associated in feed production system due to relatively long storage periods, nutritionists find it challenging to balance the nutrient profile in cattle feed at market price. Ideally, the nutrients fed to a dairy cow depends on its production potential, stage of development, physiological state, energy expenditure, environment, and characteristics of the available feed.
In current scenario, looking at the raw materials available for cattle feed production, feed companies usually spend 80-84 rupees per kg of protein, 120-125 rupees per kg fat, and 22-25 rupees per 2,300 Kcal of energy. If the efficiency of these nutrients is low, feed companies cannot demonstrate return on investment (ROI) for their feed. A recent report from National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) showed that the nitrogen efficiency in dairy animals ranged from 18-21%. This value is alarming and an immediate need to address this, results is increasing the nitrogen efficiency. The benefits of precision nutrition are seen in farm studies as well. Real-time monitoring of lactating cow feed intake can improve dry matter intake (DMI), and on-farm implementation of feeding suggestions from a precision management model can improve milk yield and income over feed costs. The studies indicate that precision feeding improves efficiency of nutrient utilization and productivity. Precision feeding can be more appreciated in farms which follow grouping of dairy cows. In such farms, diets can be balanced according to the requirements, and monitoring of feed intake can be made.
In precision dairy farming, biological processes involving living organisms are automatically monitored online. Despite all the available technology, still a lot of problems occurs with cows on dairy farms. The technology may lead to earlier detection of unusual cows, but dairy farmers react only when cows show clinical symptoms and maybe because of the fact that the level of deviation is small initially. Farmers are able to heal the cow or are able to steer the deviation before the moment of cows becoming clinical sick. However, by this way of management, dairy farmers are still steering their farm at the end of pipeline. Many universities across the globe have given the requirement and nutrient needs for dairy cows, but none of them has made any point on margins of error associated with feeding systems.
Precision nutrition is a practice in which the dairy cow/a group of dairy cows are fed with nutrients according to their need and requirements, with a minimal nutrient excretion and maximum utilization. This practice enhances sustainability and reduces environmental wastages from dairy cows. Precision feeding can be followed by all dairy farmers, irrespective of the number of animals in farm. It is all about making customized meals to cows based on their life cycle need. Every cow needs some essential and critical nutrients at different phases of its life cycle. If the diet is precisely balanced for those nutrients, exceptional results can be expected in dairy herds. The preliminary need for any farmer to start precision feeding is establishing a nutrient database for all the ingredients that he intends to use in his feed formulation. Analyzing few important vitamin and amino acid levels in cattle blood helps to formulate a diet that directs to improve reproductive efficiency and fertility rates in the farm level.
Precision feeding helps to increase the dairy farm profitability and lowers feed costs. Since, animals are grouped based on their milk yields and body weights, precision nutrition can be easily put to action. Precision Nutrition helps to reduce feed costs and feed wastage. For instance, when the dry matter intake in a group is accurately guessed, then nutrient requirements can be perfectly adjusted to the rations by reducing the margins of error. Precision nutrition combined with good record keeping can provide quality data on understanding how the change in ingredients or supplier of the ingredients can affect farm profitability. Currently, lot of research is focused on improving nitrogen efficiency.
Few advantages of precision nutrition are stated as below.

  • Precision feeding helps to improve nitrogen efficiency
  • Vitamins and trace mineral costs can be saved in farm with the use of precision feeding
    Precision nutrition can throw light on the specific deficiencies associated with functional nutrients
  • Precision nutrition helps to understand feed efficiency and prevents nutrient wastage
  • It maintains the rumen health of cows along with reproduction
  • Precision feeding reduces environmental loses of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous
  • Precision feeding achieves calf and heifer growths as planned
  • It can minimize fluctuations in milk production, and exploits the full milking potential of animal
  • Designer nutrient fortified milk can also be achieved using precision feeding. Examples include Conjugate linoleic acid (CLA) rich milk, which can be achieved through dietary manipulation of fatty acids.

Implementing precision technology on farm is important to pay attention on basic aspects of dairy farming. In many occasions (automatic milking systems, automatic milk feeders, etc.), focus is on new technology, basic and pivotal aspects such as ensuring minimum mixing errors in total mixed rations, measurable moisture content in feeds, and monitoring daily intake are tend to be neglected. Dairy farming become sustainable based on demonstrating the income over feed costs, achieving better rumen and general health, minimizing raw material inventory, reduced incidence of diseases, and increased production and productivity.
Useful technology for the support of dairy farm feeding and nutrition that can throw light on precision feeding are descried as below.
1) Milk Yield and Milk Electrical Conductivity: Consistencies in milk yield and components can be achieved using precision nutrition approach. This approach holds good for identifying nutritional and metabolic imbalances. However, this approach fails to detect small changes in milk yield or milk electrical conductivity that often are associated with the onset of a health disorder.
2) Walking Activity: Cows having elevated concentrations of non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) exhibit less activity than those with reduced NEFA. There is a negative relationship between walking activity and plasma NEFA concentrations in postpartum dairy cows.
3) Feeding Behaviour and Intake: Dry matter intake and standing bouts in 24 h before calving discriminates the cows with and without dystocia. The behaviours of cows with dystocia alter in 24 h before calving. They observed that cows with dystocia consumed 1.9 kg less during the 48 h before calving compared than the cows with eutocia, and this difference increased to 2.6 kg in 24 h before calving. In addition, these differences in feeding behaviour and intake were detected even 2 weeks before calving with clinical signs of problems. This kind of data identifies cows at risk and proposes interventions that can reduce this risk; because cows with a drop in dry matter intake just before calving may be at great risk for metabolic diseases such as fatty liver and/or ketosis.
4) Milk fat percentage or Milk fat/ protein inversion: Online measurement of low milk fat is often attributed to rumen acidosis. Nevertheless, the composition of diet is of significant importance to use this parameter as a diagnostic tool for low rumen pH. Hence, cows suffer from rumen acidosis without low fat percentage in milk due to the lack of unsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in rumen.
5) Body Condition Score: Body condition score (BCS) is an important factor in dairy cattle management. BCS in which a cow calves, nadir BCS and the amount of BCS she loses post calving are associated with milk production, reproduction, and health. Body condition scoring is a long-term monitor of energy balance in dairy cows, because the size of body fat reserves changes slowly, relative to precision of the measurement scales available. Using it as a short-term monitor will be impossible.
6) Rumen pH: Decline of reticulo-ruminal pH under the physiological norm in cattle, mostly occurring as sub clinical rumen acidosis (SARA), is a wide spread metabolic problem in dairy cattle. Risk for acidosis is not the same for all cows. Even when individual dairy cows are fed and managed properly, variations in the degree of acidosis are observed in cows. However, rumen pH could be used as an instrument, steering rumen fermentation for optimal production and health of cows. Animal variation in the risk for rumen acidosis is probably related to combined effects of the levels of feed intake, eating rate, sorting of feed, salivation rate, inherent ruminal microbial population, previous exposure to acidosis, rate of passage of feed from the rumen, and other aspects of physiology and behaviour.
Dairy farming is an enterprise that requires quick decision making on an everyday basis. It depends on everyday actions with a holistic approach to maintain a profitable system that accounts for the consumers animal well-being, environmental impacts, and product quality. A knowledge and understanding in dairy cow physiology are needed to make profitable and timely decisions. Success is achieved when a dairy farmer manages to use this information provided by technology in an efficient way. Therefore, the management level of the dairy farmer plays a critical role in determining the returns from investing in a Precision Dairy Farming technology. Also, the level of management in a day-to-day handling of individual cows may influence the impact of Precision Dairy Farming Technologies.
NOTE: Precision Nutrition and its applications are performed by professional experts, please do not try this at home.

by Dr Sriharsha KV, Kemin Industries South Asia Pvt. Ltd.