NIS is nothing new – it’s been around for decades. But where it used to be thought of as low feed-value filler for rations, its real worth in ruminant diets is now being recognised as we start to understand the value of effective fibre.
In particular, as yields rise and we feed more starch from cereals, maize silage and wholecrop, the forage to concentrate ratio becomes skewed and there’s an increasing risk of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) impacting herd health and performance.
We tend to add lots of extras like chopped straw, protected fats and buffers to correct this, but what we need to do is focus on feeding the rumen correctly so that it can work more efficiently to produce milk and support the health of the cow.
NIS helps with the challenge of getting enough energy into dairy cows without compromising on fibre intake. NIS might be in pellet form but it is compressed forage, not a concentrate, and will aid in the formation of an effective rumen fibre mat which in turn improves the efficiency of the rumen microbes in digesting the ration being fed. Its treatment with sodium hydroxide also means the lignin in the straw has been broken down and is digestible – and its alkalinity helps the cow balance acid in the rumen.
Computer ration programmes generally underrate NIS because they look at its feed value and assume it dilutes the energy content of the ration. But the truth is programmes cannot calculate the significant value of optimising rumen health, and the impact that it then has on feed efficiency which, in the case of NIS, is enormous.