Consistency in feeding is the key

Cow comfort and nutrition are the most important factors which determine the cow's health and performance. As caretakers of the cows, we have a direct impact on their health and have a responsibility every day to keep fresh, properly mixed Total Mixed Ration (TMR) in front of them at all times.

The goal for every feeder is that all rations are mixed in the amounts equal to the nutritionist's formulated ration, and then the cows consistently consume the balanced ration. However, feeders work with and witness many of the variations and inconsistencies that occur in feeding and determining if the ration looks the same each day. Consistency in feeding and nutrition is important to the health and performance of the cows, as they will always respond best to rations that are consistent in ingredient quality, moisture, mixing accuracy, proper fiber length, and when sorting of the TMR is minimized. A feeder has a real opportunity to help the cows by how consistently his job is done each day.

Consistent rules for a good feeder

  • Feed only ingredients that are free of visible molds, and avoid feeds that
    are excessively wet, warm, or out-of-condition.
  • Accurate moisture-monitoring of wet ingredients directly impacts the accuracy of the rations consumed. Silage moisture should be monitored daily by having the feeders do a quick "hand-squeeze" test of the forage or ingredients to see if the moisture has changed significantly from the previous day. As needed, moisture test with a Koster Tester. 
  • Label or number all of the commodity or ingredient bays and bins to avoid mixing and feeding errors.
  • Never over-fill a mixer — this causes inefficient and inaccurate mixing, while being more likely to spill and waste feed.
  • Avoid over-mixing the TMR which can excessively shorten or destroy the effective fiber of the forage that is needed by the cows to stay healthy. The goal is to have hay, hay silage, and straw with a particle length of 1.5 inches to 3 inches in the TMR for best intake and effective fiber.
  • Reliable and accurate scales are a must. Know the exact amounts fed. Check scales two to three times per year for accuracy. Monitor the accuracy of mixing.
  • Visually inspect the TMR to make sure it has been uniformly mixed.
  • Avoid feeding fresh feed over stale or warm feed. Look at the first TMR out of the mixer and the last — is it consistent?
  • Feed in 100 percent of the available bunk space. Sounds easy, but is
    it done?
  • Always try to feed at the same time in each pen. The best time is when cows return from milking.
  • Weigh-backs should look similar to fresh TMR, indicating minimal feed sorting.

Consistency in feeding and bunk management is an excellent way to improve production and herd health on your dairy. As caretakers of the cows, we all have a responsibility to do the best job of minimizing any day-to-day variation that may be occurring in the rations consumed by the cows. Cows thrive on consistency — lets give it to them!

Jim Barmore, owner of Five-Star Dairy Consulting, is a dairy nutrition and management consultant serving clients in the Upper Midwest.  He can be reached at [email protected].