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Back to Basics: The Art of Bunk Management

Kevin Caspersen, Chr. Hansen

Sun Tzu, author of the great book “The Art of War”, said “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” Who in the heck is Sun Tzu and why is Kevin writing about him? Sun Tzu was a military strategist and a very well-known Chinese general from the 5th century B.C. and his book, “The Art of War” has been widely recognized as a military masterpiece. Even though dairy farming and war might not have too many similarities (although some days it might not feel that way), his quote is very pertinent to our topic of bunk management.


When evaluating a feed bunk, do you, or the person feeding the cows, ponder and deliberate before making any changes to either how much, what or when cows get fed? If not, the results could be detrimental to the herd. Talking with several dairymen recently, it seems as feed costs are somewhere in the ballpark of 15 cents/lb of dry matter, give or take depending on specific feed ingredients and intakes and if we are not accurate on our feed bunk management, this could equate to huge dollar losses and possible cow health issues. Computerized feed management systems have helped tremendously in tracking intakes, costs and efficiency, but what happens on the front end when we aren’t reading the bunks correctly in the first place? What happens at 2am when you aren’t on the dairy? Are feeding times consistent? Are push up times consistent and frequent enough?


A myriad of cow health issues can happen if feed and bunk management isn’t a priority. DA’s, rumen issues like SARA (sub-acute rumen acidosis) and the subsequent laminitis, milk fat depression, lower gut health issues brought on by clostridium or salmonella and bloody gut that usually end in death can occur. Lower milk production, increased labor and treatment costs and not having a “normal” herd will affect the sustainability and profitability of the dairy. Dr. Alex Bach’s trial on “Associations between nondietary factors and dairy herd performance” found that over 50% of the milk yield variation on 47 dairy herds fed the same exact TMR was caused by “nondietary factors.” These “nondietary factors” were things like feed availability, feed push ups, feed delivery times, feed clean up and several other management practices.


So what can and should we do to help minimize these detrimental effects?


1. Make sure dry matters on all forages are accurate, correct and up-to-date in feed software.


2. Make sure pen counts are accurate in the feed software as well.


3. Try to align time of fresh-feed delivery to when cows are coming back from the parlor. Typically, cows like to grab a drink and a bite to eat after milking and providing fresh feed will stimulate better dry matter intake.


4. Make sure feed is evenly distributed along the bunk to ensure adequate access to feed for all cows.


5. Push up feed regularly. Pushing up feed will stimulate intakes, keep sorting to a minimum and will keep rumen pH more stable.


6. Use cameras to view and monitor. Game cameras and other video equipment are incredibly useful to see what is occurring during those odd hours of the day. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up and use.


7. Watch feed quality throughout the day. What I mean by that is, has feed quality deteriorated throughout the day? Is the TMR heating and are you seeing visible molds? If so, consider using a science-based, research-proven inoculant like SILOSOLVE® FC on forages to minimize molds and yeasts.


8. If bunks are clean in the morning when you are reading them, make gradual changes to dry matter intake. I would recommend only changing intake by 0.5lb of dry matter per day. Large swings when changing intakes can result in too many refusals or not enough feed in front of cows and both of these scenarios are bad!


9. Feed a proven probiotic like BOVAMINE® Dairy Plus because even when we do all these things right, there are still variables that we can’t see or plan for that negatively affect the herd. Feeding a proven probiotic can bring the herd back to normal and keep it there.


Doing these little things right, and teaching employees to do them correctly, can start us off on the right foot in 2020 and get back to having normal cows and normal lives.


Article Sponsored by Chr. Hansen