Dairy Channel: Fine-tuning feed mixing and feeding

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I’m always harping at dairy managers about excessive feed costs.

They are too high on many farms. However, current thinking among dairy scientists seems to be that we should change our thinking from focusing on total costs per hundredweight of milk to marginal cost versus marginal return from an additional unit of feed input.

The idea is that managers are placing too much emphasis on keeping costs low and are therefore passing up opportunities to improve profits by spending a little more money to make a lot more milk or to greatly improve the health of the cows.

I agree that there are many cases where feed costs per hundredweight are too high because milk production is not high enough. I think the take-home message here is that we need to do everything possible to provide the highest quality rations to well-managed cows, even if it means spending a little more.

These rations should be formulated to maintain the health of cows, maximize dry matter intake, support high levels of milk production and allow the owners and management to make a good return on their investment.

Answering questions. Now the question becomes: How do we get your nutritionist’s state-of-the-art calculations and ingredients delivered to each mouth-full of feed consistently? And then how do we get cows to eat high levels of that intake every day?

Secondly, how do you overcome the variability of weather, variations in stored silage and variations in purchased feeds, whether you mix and feed yourself or an employee does the job? In other words, how can you improve your feed bunk management and total mixed rations feeding?

Only a minority of dairy farms closely track feed quality variation, feed mixing, inventories, feed bunk delivery, shrink and corresponding animal performance, said James A. Barmore, technical specialist with Monsanto Dairy Business, Verona, Wis.

Most dairy managers are therefore losing the opportunity to improve cow performance and better manage expenses, he said.

Feed management. Although most everyone has come to agreement that total mixed rations is the preferred method of feeding non-grazing herds, the art and science of how best to manage specific mixers continues to evolve.

According to Barmore, feeding management is more than feed delivery and removal of refusal. Feeding management involves ingredient characteristics, feed quality control, feed processing and mixing, and many other factors related to feed quality and ration availability.

The feeding management practices from forage harvest and storage to feed bunk delivery provide plenty of opportunities to improve cow performance and expense management on most farms, Barmore said.

Barmore’s paper, presented at the 2002 Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference last month, addresses key areas where well-managed dairies do a good job of monitoring and managing the variability of feeds and feeding. These areas include:

* forage variation and feed-out management;

* the actual total mixed rations mixer and its operation;

* feed delivery and bunk management.

Details. Barmore suggests the following for fine-tuning ration mixing and feeding programs:

* Monitor the within batch and between batch variation in the dry matter, energy and effective fiber for all ingredients, but in particular the forages.

Calculate the dry matter content of forages based on weekly moisture tests and adjust the total mixed rations to deliver a consistent amount of dry matter from each ingredient.

Work with your nutritionist and mixer manufacturer to establish optimum mixing protocols for all feeds in all rations. Make sure feeders know and follow proper mixing sequences and times for each ration.

* Minimize any effective fiber reduction during handling, mixing or feeding, while assuring uniform mixing and a consistent ration in terms of physical characteristics.

Measure particle size with a system such as the Penn State particle separation screen and make sure there is a consistent level of effective fiber in the ration every day. Sample and test total mixed ration mixes for uniformity, accuracy and conformity to calculated values each time major ration changes are made.

* Provide a fresh, high quality, non-sorted ration at all times. Cows should be able to get feed when they want, in unlimited quantities, without competition from other cows.

Both feed and water must be available in a comfortable environment. Managers of high producing herds in Wisconsin shoot for 1 percent to 5 percent refusal rates at the feed bunk with an average of about 3 percent.

* Monitor the performance of the feeder through record systems, electronic monitoring systems and regular supervision. Train and monitor the activities of the feeder to eliminate unexpected events and changes in the feeding program.

The success of any management team depends on its ability to consistently execute the jobs and responsibilities of each team member. Feeding programs must control the major factor in the production of milk, accounting for 50 percent or more of the total costs of the dairy.

(The author is an agricultural extension agent in Columbiana County. Questions or comments can to Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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