To address this situation, Dairy Australia’s Grains2Milk program conducted a study of feed wastage rates on 50 commercial dairy farms that used different feed-out methods. Farms involved in the study spanned the six different feed-out methods used on Australian dairy farms.
The study found that hay feeder design affects the amount of hay wastage. The researchers suggested strategies to minimize waste during feed-out, including using feeders that encourage cows to keep their heads in the feeder opening and reach for feed (for example, a slatted bar design on a ring feeder that forces cows to rotate their heads when entering or leaving the feeder), rather than allowing them to back away easily and drop hay on the ground.
The researchers recommend that if using bunks:
- Ensure adequate space for the number of cows (2.5 feet per cow).
- Aim for a height that allows cows to eat with their head in a natural grazing position (about 4 to 6 inches above the ground) to promote more saliva production.
- Ensure surfaces are smooth to avoid a buildup of waste feed, mold and odors. Plus, smooth surfaces are easy to clean.
- Consider concrete aprons around troughs to prevent mud and slush from contaminating feed and reducing palatability.
Reducing waste through more precise feed delivery can reduce feed costs and add revenue to the dairy enterprise.