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The Road to More Consistent Feedbunks


During a time when feed costs are eating away at farmer’s profits, ration consistency and proper feed management practices are more important now than ever before. Ration consistency is the key to maximizing the usage of ingredients while also working to maintain cow health, production and efficiency.


“While the formulated ration is critical to keeping feed costs within reason, on-farm feed management should be a focus to ensure that formulated rations are effectively delivered to all cows,” says Rainey Rosemond, dairy extension educator at Penn State University.


Slight changes to the ration in terms of ingredient weight, total weight delivered, particle size distribution, mixing order and mixing time can have a significant impact on individual cow performance. To minimize inconsistency, Rosemond recommends focusing on the followin


DRY MATTER

When measuring individual feed ingredients, their weight is only accurate if the moisture content of the feed is the same as it was during the ration formulation period. Changes in the weight of a feed due to changes in moisture alter the nutrient concentrations supplied to the animal if appropriate adjustments are not made.


“If feed dry matter (DM) changes from the previous week or with weather events, this could impact the actual amount of feed being added to the mixer,” Rosemond says. “Shifts in the amount of each ingredient added can alter the nutrients making it to the bunk. It is a best practice to check feed DM weekly to ensure adequate and consistent amounts of each ingredient are incorporated into rations.”


PARTICLE LENGTH

Cows need to consume particles of different sizes to allow for a steadier rate of digestion in the rumen. According to Rosemond, a TMR lacking adequate particle size could negatively affect health and result in production issues associated with inadequate fiber. Herds with low physically effective fiber could experience milk fat depression. On the other hand, having long chopped forages or forages that do not mix well could lead to sorting. Therefore, particle size analysis is a key component of a well-formulated ration.


MIXING TIME

How many times have you gotten distracted while mixing feed? Probably more than you care to admit. While it’s easy to brush off over or under mixed rations, adequate mixing time is an essential part to feed consistency.


If rations are mixed for too long, forages could become too fine, Rosemond notes. Similarly, if rations are not mixed long enough, hay or long-chopped forages could come out in clumps and be easily sorted.


REFUSALS

Monitoring refusals can offer insights on forage or feed moisture changes as well as group dynamics. According to Rosemond, high-producing dairy cows should have from 1-3% refusals, while low producing or dry cows can be fed to 0.5-3% refusal levels. Adjusting for refusals will require daily monitoring. Proper management strategies are also needed to ensure milk production is not negatively impacted.


“Refusals amounts lower than the desired percentage may indicate the cow requires more energy, and the delivery amounts should be increased. Similarly, when refusals are high, energy intake may decrease, and initial delivery amounts can be reduced. Further investigation is warranted when drastic swings in the amount of feed remaining at the bunk are detected.”


TAYLOR LEACH

March 31, 2022


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