‘Intelligent rations’: Dairy feeding goes high tech in Minnesota study

By NOAH LITHERLAND

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Successful dairy farming has always required a degree of precision. This starts with the watchful eyes of producers and managers who, through experience and dedication, know their cattle and their land.

However, the quest for improvement has led to the need for greater feeding precision.

Simply put, precision dairy nutrition is meeting the cow’s nutrient requirements to optimize her genetic potential and doing so in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way.

Precision nutrition likely means something different to each dairy producer, but generally includes a balance of minimizing feed costs to produce milk, feeding to optimize milk protein, and minimizing excess nitrogen and phosphorous use.

System evaluated

New technology will likely be capable of achieving efficiency beyond the current design of dairy feeding systems.

A University of Minnesota Extension research group conducted a controlled field study with 500 dairy cows last fall to evaluate the use of a precision feeding system developed by Dinamica Generale, an Italian manufacturer of precision equipment for many industries.

The Intelligent Ration Management (IRM) system (link opens .pdf) includes a near infrared reflectance (NIR) scanner mounted in the bucket of the feeding tractor that scans forages and adjusts the amount to add to the mixer based on the dry matter of each ingredient with the goal of maintaining a consistent diet.

The dry matter percentage of wet feeds such as corn silage can shift (wetter or dryer) resulting in a change in the diet.

Did it work?

Our trial was able to demonstrate that the Dinamica Generale precision feeding system works properly in harsh environments and it is able to scan forages for composition, wirelessly make corrections for ingredient deviations from the recipe, and maintain feed intake and milk production in comparison with the industry gold standard of weekly sampling and correction for changes in ingredient moisture content.

Technology applications such as on-farm nutrient analysis of feed, milk and manure will allow dairy producers to adjust and manage variables with precision to reach their objectives.

(The author is a dairy nutrition specialist with University of Minnesota Extension.)

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