Precision, consistency and attention to details are the keys to any successful feeding program. Improving loading accuracy and reducing variability during mixing and feeding will not only improve animal performance and health, but will also control costs.

Here are some suggestions to improve mixing uniformity and consistency:

• Use pre-blends of concentrates, mineral and vitamin packs and any other small-inclusion rate ingredients.

• Develop a mixing protocol, including mixing time and ingredient loading sequence. Monitor feeders to make sure they stick to those protocols.

• Test forage dry matter at least once per week, or more often if necessary. Make necessary adjustments according to forage moisture variations.

• Invest in feeding management software. This can help monitor feeding accuracy and consistency, control feed inventory and reduce shrink losses. This technology gives the manager and nutritionist the opportunity to work closely with employees, giving them better performance feedback. It can also be a great tool to develop incentive programs, or do employee performance appraisals.

• Periodically check mixer scales for accuracy.

• Monitor TMR uniformity.

• Periodically evaluate manure consistency.

Feed bunk management

By feeding cows more accurately, you can better control feed cost. Periodically update cow numbers in each pen, making the necessary adjustments to reduce feed refusals. Running 4%-5% refusals when feeding lactating cows is no longer an option. Reducing refusals to 1% -2% can have a significant impact in feed costs. Fresh cow pens may be the exception, since some nutritionists prefer to have a higher refusal rate, up to 3%, in these pens.

While some value will be retained by feeding refusals to heifers or low-producing cows, if your current feed refusals are 3% and your feed cost is $8.50/cow/day, feed losses will be of over $93,000/year for a 1,000-cow herd. By keeping feed refusals at 1%, feed losses would represent about $31,000.

Before adopting aggressive feedbunk management goals, discuss them with your nutritionist and consultants.

To improve dairy margins, focus on the largest expense – feed. Some of the areas to evaluate:

1. Do an assessment on how ingredients are being handled from the time they arrive at the farm. Do you have SOPs in place? Is there room for improvement?

2. If you are currently storing expensive protein sources and concentrates in a commodity shed, calculate current losses and decide whether it could be profitable to invest in a few upright bins. If current losses are 4% or more, investing in a few bins will likely be worth it.

3. Develop mixing and feeding protocols to minimize within-batch and between-batch variations.

4. Spend time and money coaching, training and giving feedback to your feeders. If necessary, use consultants or nutritionists who can speak their native language.

5. Use feeding management software to monitor and adjust your feeding process.

6. Closely monitor feedbunks and weigh refusals.

More on Shrink the shrink

Felix D. Soriano, MS, PAS, is owner/consultant with APN Consulting