A growing body of research proves it’s not only about what a cow eats, but also how the cow consumes the ration.

"When we formulate rations for cows, we do not take into account how the feed is consumed," says Trevor DeVries, associate professor of animal science at the University of Guelph's Kemptville Campus in Ontario.

But, how a ration is consumed is just as important because it can have a direct effect on rumen health and fermentation, he says.

At the California Animal Nutrition Conference this past May, DeVries pointed to one research trial where cows diagnosed with severe metritis seven to nine days after calving consumed less feed and spent less time at the feed bunk during the two-week period prior to calving. This was nearly three weeks before clinical signs of infection were observed.

In this particular study, during the week prior to calving, cows were 1.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with severe metritis for every 10-minute decrease in feeding time. For every 2.2-pound decrease in dry matter intake during this period, cows were also nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with severe metritis. More recent work shows similar findings with cows that developed subclinical ketosis. Cows diagnosed with subclinical ketosis during the week after calving showed differences in feeding behavior and dry matter intake as early as one week prior to calving. DeVries provides a summary of research studies in the paper he presented at the California Animal Nutrition Conference.

These studies provide us with a basic understanding of how feeding behavior — particularly how, when, what and if cows eat the feed provided to them — and can be used to maximize the potential of our rations.

Access the paper.