Editor’s note: The following case was reported by Jeff Weyers, Ph.D., ruminant specialist with Varied Industries Corp. (Vi-COR).

I had been working with a dairy for five years when we encountered a severe problem. Out of nowhere, we lost 5 pounds of milk, coupled with a 0.2 percentage point loss in butterfat. 

The area had just been hammered with high winds and rain, so we initially thought it was an environmental-related problem. Neither I nor the dairyman became overly concerned until the weather improved and still no increase in milk production or butterfat. 

Over the next two weeks, we tried a couple different ration formulation changes without a consistent response. Milk production would increase for a couple of days, and then crash again.

The relief feeder had recently been promoted when the full-time feeder left for another job. I began to question this guy and realized some numbers weren’t matching up. So, when I left the dairy that day, I planned on making some visits at night and early the next morning when they weren’t expecting me. 

I visited the dairy at 1 a.m. the next morning, and the story started to unfold.

They had told me that feed was being pushed up three times throughout the night, but that was not the case at all. Cows were coming out of the parlor with almost a slick bunk and they still had five hours to go before next feeding.

I came back to the dairy at 6 a.m. and watched the feeder from afar. I remembered the manager telling me that this particular feeder finished a lot earlier than the previous feeder. There were a couple of reasons! The bunks were slick by morning, so he didn’t have to worry about feed refusals. I observed the feeder loading two different ingredients into the loader tractor bucket before dumping them in the mixer wagon. If he was off a little by the end of loading the grains, he would just make the total batch weight at the end by loading all corn silage. The feeder was creating an unbalanced ration, and we concluded that the forage-to-concentrate ratio was changing daily. This issue, coupled with the feed not being pushed up all night, led to our drop in milk production and butterfat. And I observed him loading two ingredients at a time before dumping them in the mixer wagon. He then made weight at the end of the batch with corn silage.

After watching him for one load, I notified the owner.

The owner observed this happening, as well, and the feeder was quickly relieved of his duties. Furthermore, this guy had been promoted from night shift cow pusher/feed pusher to full-time feeder. This promotion happened so quickly that the night shift was clueless about pushing feed up at night. Therefore, the decision to promote this guy resulted in poor execution in two very important jobs on the dairy.

Once we were able to locate these two issues, we quickly trained the night cow-pusher to push up feed several times and also the dairyman located and hired an experienced feeder.  Within two weeks, we gained our 5 pounds milk back and our butterfat returned to normal averages.

As nutritionists, we have to make all of our decisions based on a four- to five-hour snapshot when we visit the dairy ― usually during the day. Without a late-night investigation, this problem would have been a tough one to correct.