Q: How can you use whole-herd rumination to problem solve feed or feeding changes on a dairy?

A: The owners of a Midwest dairy were puzzled. They invested in a rumination monitoring system and used the technology to successfully improve their management in a variety of areas. They faithfully tracked rumination time and used deviations from a cow’s “normal” rumination pattern to stage interventions as needed and were pleased with the results.

However, a strange, large-scale pattern began to emerge.

The dairy maintained a strong nutrition program, which was overseen by a member of the farm’s management team. The individual responsible for daily feeding took great pride in the proper mixing and distribution of the dairy’s ration and the cow’s performance reflected this dedication. It was his job to feed the herd and he did so extremely well.

Everyone who was part of the feeding program had been trained to follow established protocols and had been taught the reason these protocols were in place.

Q: What did the rumination data reveal?

A: As historical rumination data began to accumulate, it became evident that the herd experienced an unexplained dip in rumination time of about 75 minutes or so every Wednesday.

The farm team was at a loss to explain the regularity of the occurrence. The scenario went on for a number of weeks. Forages were tested and protocols were examined—and re-examined—and cow routines were checked for disruption, but no clear-cut answers emerged.

Then one week, the primary feeder switched his day off from Wednesday to Thursday.

Herd rumination time remained steady on Wednesday. However, rumination time on Thursday took a 75-point dive; then rose back to normal levels on Friday.

Q: What problem was revealed?

A: The problem wasn’t with the forages or the cows or the protocols. It was slight changes in feeding techniques when the primary feeder was away from the dairy.

Despite training, procedural drift crept in—something that happens to the best of us. Whether intentional or not, the relief feeder did things slightly differently from what occurred the other six days of the week. The differences could not be detected by looking at the ration, but were enough to cause a rumination change in the cows.

Q: How was the problem remedied?

A: The dairy reemphasized to relief feeding personnel the importance of precise protocol compliance. The rumination data enabled the dairy to demonstrate the importance of proper feeding management to key personnel and offered proof as to the impact of small differences in procedures.

The information also gave the dairy one more way to show the importance of consistency to keep everyone on the farm working toward the same goals. The data removed some of the guesswork from both employee management and nutrition management, and resulted in better performance all around.

1/ Schirmann K, et al. Technical Note: Validation of a system for monitoring rumination in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci  2009;92(12)6052-6055.