It's not easy to feed several thousand cows everyday, and it becomes even more challenging when you feed for a slick bunk, like they do at the 8,000-head Cimarron Dairy in western Kansas.
Slick-bunk management means that you feed animals exactly what they need to achieve zero leftovers. That's no small task, regardless of herd size.
To achieve such precision, you need impeccable bunk management. Reading the bunk accurately — observing the cows, what they ate or didn't eat, and adapting the ration based on what you see — is the cornerstone of a successful slick-bunk program. Unfortunately, it's not something that you can learn overnight. It takes time and persistence to get the hang of it.
If you're ready to start a slick-bunk program (See the checklist on the previous page 41 to find out if you're a good candidate.), here is a useful tool — borrowed from the beef industry — to help you hone your bunk reading skills. Use it to get your program off to a good start and to keep it on track.
A bunk-scoring system
The beef industry has used slick-bunk management for about 10 years, says Steve Loerch, beef nutritionist at Ohio State University. In principle, it's a fairly simple concept: Feed animals so they clean up their entire meal just before the next one arrives — without feeding them less than what they need. In practice, it doesn't always turn out that way.
Weather, for one, can be a wild card when you feed cows for no refusals. For instance, if a cold front moves through and the temperature drops 20 or 30 degrees, the cows may run out of feed too soon. Just the opposite can occur in hot weather and you end up with leftover feed.
Fluctuations in feed intake are not limited to changes in the weather. Management practices, like BST administration or vaccination, also can alter feed intake. Regardless of the source, these situations can be particularly frustrating for beginning slick-bunk users.
However, one way to minimize the frustration of over- or under-feeding the cows is to implement a bunk-scoring system.
Simply put, a bunk-scoring system is a tool that helps you monitor the bunk and determine how much feed to offer each day, Loerch says.
How it works
To get started, use the score card below as your guideline. You may need to modify the scorecard, or create your own scoring system, to fit your dairy's needs. Ask your nutritionist and management team to help you.
First, make a copy of the score card, then head to the feed bunk. Make a copy for each pen or group of animals. It's also a good idea to score bunks at the same time every day for consistency.
Next, observe the feed bunk and assign a bunk score of 0, 1 or 2, based on the descriptions listed on the sample score card shown below or based on your own criteria. In addition, be sure to jot down any notes regarding these factors:
The cows" behavior. For instance, do they act hungry or content? Are they waiting at the bunk for their next meal to arrive or are they lying comfortably in their stalls?).
Any management activities (BST administration, vaccinations) or weather conditions that might affect feed intake.
After taking all of this information into account, you're ready to make your feed call for the day.
Remember, each time you head to the bunk, take the score cards from the past few days with you. That way, you can quickly see if intakes are increasing, decreasing or staying about the same. This also tells you if the decision you made was the right one, or what you need to do differently to avoid making the same mistake twice.
To download a copy of this scorecard for use on your dairy, click here.