Lowering feed shrinkage is an economic opportunity for dairies of every size.

Feed efficiency may be called milk production efficiency or dairy efficiency, but all these refer to the same thing: how efficiently a dairy cow converts feed to milk. Bunk design is an important factor. University research data demonstrate that up to 20 percent of feed can be lost behind the feed bunk. In general, feed losses for dairy heifers will be lower when fed in equipment designs that require the animals to place their head through and reach down for feed as opposed to simply reaching horizontally for feed. Feed wagons, where the feed is at the same horizontal plane as the animal’s muzzle, have been demonstrated to increase feed losses. Fence line feed bunks should be fitted properly for each size group of heifers.

According to university research, post and rails, throat guards and/or self-locks should be checked and adjusted to proper dimensions. While feed losses during feed delivery can be the most significant for many feeds on the farm, they have not been well-documented. 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. 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.

Note: This item was excerpted from an article by J.W. Schroeder, extension dairy specialist at North Dakota State University.