Dairy feedbase: Flexible Feeding Systems project

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Flexible Feeding Systems was a research project looking at how to best integrate supplementary concentrates into a dairy feeding system.

The national Flexible Feeding Systems (FFS) project commenced in Western Australia (WA) in 2012 and was funded by the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) and Dairy Australia/Western Dairy. The project was being undertaken in collaboration with Victorian researchers (FFS-Vic) and aimed to investigate more efficient use of concentrates for dairy cows.

Improving the feed use efficiency of concentrates for milking cows is particularly important in our environment where concentrates and conserved forages make up a substantial part of the annual diet. Furthermore, concentrates are an expensive feed, so improved efficiency will aid in improving farm financial performance.

FFS-WA: phase 1 (2012-2013)

WA dairy farmers were actively involved in Phase 1 of the project, with feeding management practices intensively monitored on 13 partner farms from March 2012 to June 2013. 

Two feeding systems were compared during this time:

  1. The system where all concentrate is fed in the dairy parlour - separate from forage in the paddock.
  2. The system where concentrate is mixed together with forage in partial mixed ration (PMR).

It was expected, largely due to improved rumen health, that the PMR system would have higher milk production, leading to higher farm profitability. However, results failed to show any significant difference between the two systems. 


Findings from FFS-Vic are supportive in that no production benefits were observed when a simple PMR (pasture silage + barley grain) was fed over the traditional method of feeding all concentrate in the dairy. In WA it is common for PMR diets to only consist of two or three components, classifying them as simple.

FFS-Vic then went on to report that feeding a more complex PMR, including simple PMR components plus lucerne haylage, maize silage and maize grain, increased milk production by approximately 2 kilograms (kg)/cow/day. 

In another similar experiment the researchers went on to find that increasing metabolisable protein supply above the recommended requirements by replacing some wheat with canola meal, and grass silage with lucerne haylage, increased milk production by 3-5kg/cow.

FFS-WA: phase 2 (2015)

Based on FFS-Vic findings and as part of FFS-WA Phase 2, the DAFWA dairy team carried out a feeding trial at Vasse Research Centre from March 2015 to June 2015.

The trial compared two groups of early lactation cows each receiving 14kg dry matter (DM)/day of a PMR mix, comprising 8kg pasture silage and 6kg of concentrates (DM basis).

The control treatment contained 6kg of crushed wheat only, while the experimental treatment contained a 6kg mixture of canola meal, wheat and maize grain.

Both groups were provided with an additional 3.6kg of lupins fed in the parlour, and also had unrestricted access to lucerne haylage in the paddock separately to the PMR mix.


Results showed that over the 12 week experimental period, the group receiving the complex concentrate mix produced 2.2kg more of energy corrected milk than the group receiving wheat only in the PMR.

This was mainly driven by a greater voluntary intake of lucerne haylage (2kg DM/cow per day) in the cows receiving the complex concentrate mix. This group also had a much reduced body condition loss, and a greater weight gain than the control group.

Further research

The next step is to determine the reasons for this apparent increase in appetite and intake in the cows receiving the complex concentrate mix. This will involve an in-vivo digestibility study using nylon bags and ruminally fistulated cows, to be conducted in Victoria .

The contribution of maize grain to the positive effects of dry matter intake and milk yield observed at the Vasse Research Centre (WA) may be linked to the slower starch degradability profile of maize grain in the rumen. However this feed is not economically viable at current prices for WA dairy producers.

Therefore we are going to use the nylon bag experiment to help identify feeds of similar starch degradability to maize grain, that are more relevant and cost effective, to WA dairy producers. This will allow us to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms behind the differences in intake and milk production observed in the experiment at Vasse.

More information

For further information on this study, and other dairy related studies being undertaken in Western Australia contact the Western Dairy Research, Extension and Development Hub.

Dairy Research Scientist Ruairi McDonnell on +61 (0)8 9724 2417

Research and Extension Officer Jess Andony on +61 (0)8 9724 2420