Wanted: cooperation, please

Wanted: cooperation, please

Nov 01, 2007

Last night I received a phone call from the doctor who provides routine veterinary services to a dairy herd where I do the ration balancing. This herd is experiencing some problems with fresh cows, and the doctor performed some blood testing in an attempt to obtain clues regarding the cause of these problems. The blood work revealed moderately low albumin levels in most of the six dry cows he tested. This suggests low protein intake.

The low albumin levels surprised me because I previously tested all forages being fed and formulated the dry-cow ration to provide adequate levels not only of protein, but also the right mixture of soluble, degradable and undegradable protein. Sodium levels were also somewhat low. Because the protein and sodium are provided in large part throughout the supplement, we wondered if the supplement was being correctly added to the ration.

We agreed to test some fresh TMR (total mixed ration) as well as the protein supplement for nutrient content. If all appears in line, then we will probably retest some cows to see if the low albumin remains. If so, we will have to start investigating what could be hindering protein absorption.

Team approach

My reason for sharing the above scenario is that it represents a cooperative effort between the attending veterinarian and me to help our mutual client. It happens that this doctor and I know each other well, and we work together in several herds. We frequently call each other when problems exist. We know the producers involved appreciate having us work together.

Unfortunately, there are times when this level of cooperation does not exist. Veterinarians sometimes say things like, "Well, your ration must be out of line," when problems arise, without making an effort to talk to the nutritionist about the ration. In a similar vein, nutritionists have been guilty of finding fault with a vaccination program that they did not really understand. When we conduct ourselves in this manner, the producer often is confused and might take action that is harmful to the animals and the farm's economic well-being.

Mutual respect goes far

This situation gets more complicated when veterinarians are doing the ration balancing. There seems to be an inherent distrust of feed companies and people who work for them. A common statement that gets back to us is, "Feed companies are only interested in selling something." While we do need to generate income, we are well aware that long-term success depends on serving the customer. Veterinarians who dispense animal-health products certainly benefit economically from doing so, but I believe they also are looking to best serve their client.

I have been on both sides of this issue, and I know that the benefits of working together far outweigh any drawbacks. The selection of ingredients that go into the ration is one area where feed companies often have far more knowledge than practicing veterinarians. The company I work for has done extensive research of many byproduct feeds and has built a huge databank of the nutrient profile of not only the feeds in general, but the feeds categorized by source. Thus, we know what to expect when we use these products in a ration.

Knowledge is power

In my experience, most veterinarians who do rations put together a list of feed ingredients that their computer program indicates will meet the needs of the animal. They, or the producer, then ask various feed suppliers to quote a price for that mixture and purchase it from the lowest bidder.

There are two problems with this scenario. There usually is no testing of the ingredients to see if they provide the expected nutrients, and there is no opportunity to substitute lower-priced ingredients that can be combined to yield the same nutrient profile.

In my current role, when our company is requested to provide a quote on a list of ingredients, I ask to be allowed to provide an alternative list. I have no problem with sharing my proposed ingredients, as well as the nutrient profile of each. In most cases, I can cut costs significantly without compromising quality. In addition, I eliminate the uncertainty of using untested feed materials.