3. Dial or digital thermometer with a 12 to 18” probe
A thermometer probe can be an effective tool to evaluate forages in bunker or drive-over piles, helping to determine if proper packing and feed out steps are being taken.
“If the face of the silage pile is heating, secondary fermentation is taking place and the feed is likely spoiling before it reaches the cow,” notes Janicki. “You want the silage to be as fresh as possible.” If the silage is heating before it gets to the cow, yeasts and molds are growing and the feed loses its nutritional value.
Safety is always of the utmost concern when working with silage, so be very cautious when measuring the temperature of the silage face. It may be safer to scrape and deface the bunker, then measure the temperature in the loose forage.
4. Evaluate fecal starch content
A composite manure sample can be collected and submitted to a laboratory for evaluation of the fecal starch content. Fecal starch content should be less than 4 to 5 percent. According to University of Pennsylvania research, for every point higher the farm is losing 0.7 pound of milk. “I’ve seen farms with fecal starch contents ranging from 9 to 12 percent. That’s a lot of lost opportunity,” he adds.
A 3/16” screen can also be used to wash a manure sample to subjectively evaluate the amount of whole or partially digested kernels passing through in the manure. A lot of kernels from unprocessed or poorly processed silage or corn particles (grit) can indicate that corn is not being well utilized by the cow. “Look for oilseeds (whole cottonseed and roasted beans) passing through, too,” says Janicki.
Washed manure is also evaluated for fiber particles. “If you see longer particles in the manure, the rate of passage out of the rumen might be too fast,” he says.
5. Body Condition Scoring
Body condition scoring is another tool that can give an indication if a ration is optimal. “Keep an eye out to make sure cows aren’t losing too much body condition in early lactation or putting too much on in late lactation or during the dry period,” says Janicki. Body condition scores should be evaluated throughout the lactation.
Once all five of these tools have been effectively implemented, then start looking at the diet in terms of ingredients, technologies and products. “Fine tuning the ration comes after the big picture has been evaluated,” says Janicki.
And, while these five tools won’t be used every month, they should be re-evaluated every couple months to make sure things are still on track or when things change on farm.
Remember, it should always be top of mind to feed every cow, exactly what she needs, where she needs it, when she needs it – nothing more and nothing less. This approach will aid dairy farmers in capturing opportunities for improved efficiency.