The top 9 ways to mess up a good cow feeding plan
You’ve all heard that there are three diets for every lactating cow diet formulated: the diet on paper, the diet delivered and the diet consumed. Your feeder holds the power to deliver a great diet — or really mess things up.
Messing up the diet costs money in lost milk revenue, and wastes feed. So, consider these tips.
Mess-up No. 1: Forget to track forage dry matter and quality.
The first rule is to load and mix the right feeds in the correct amounts. That means close tracking of forage dry-matter changes in silos, bags and bunks. Forage testing is a must for pinpointing supplement needs.
Mess-up No. 2: Overmix or undermix total mixed rations.
All TMR mixer wagons damage fiber. The extent varies with the mixer and increases with mixing time.
To determine how much damage your mixer may be causing, ask your feed sales person to shake out hand-mixed TMR and mechanically mixed TMR right after mixing, from your mixer wagon using the Penn State Particle separator. If particle distribution is similar, your mixer is causing minimal damage.
Mess-up No. 3: Feed a “little” spoilage; it won’t hurt.
That’s like saying a little food poisoning won’t hurt. Do not feed spoilage! If there’s a lot of spoilage in your storage structure, take a very hard look at your harvesting, packing and sealing system.
• These little mess-ups cost you in feed waste and milk revenue.
• The mess-ups make a huge difference between diet formulated and diet eaten.
• Weighing accuracy and attention to detail pays off in dairy herds.
Mess-up No. 4: Overfill your mixer wagon.
Overfilling interferes with proper mixing. Consider the “hat” test for determining if your wagon is too full. Place an old hat on top of the feeds in the mixer wagon and start mixing. If the hat disappears, the mixer is mixing properly.
Mess-up No. 5: Within 100 pounds is close enough, more or less.
Plus or minus 100 pounds can make a huge difference depending on the feed. If that extra 100 pounds is forage, and milk production is unaffected, then there’s room in the diet for more forage. Conversely, if milk production decreases, then cows are likely being shortchanged on important nutrients.
Mess-up No. 6: Your feeder never returns to the feed commodity barn or bunkers with extra feed.
You likely have a problem with delivering an accurate and consistent diet. Mixer scales aren’t always accurate. Scales should be tested four times per year. To test the scales, place two 50-pound bags on the mixer’s corner. Weigh when it’s empty, half full and full to check weighing accuracy.
Mess-up No. 7: Mix in a little poor quality feed to be rid of it.
Poor quality feeds cannot be hidden in your TMR. You and your cows pay for compromising feedstuff quality and palatability.
Mess-up No. 8: Get one more year out of that old mixer.
They wear out and need to be replaced. Tired mixer wagons can cause problems with inadequate mixing and fiber destruction. (See Mess-up No. 2.)
Mess-up No. 9: Multitask while mixing and feeding.
Doing this crucial job right requires concentration. Shut off your cell phone. Reward feeders for doing a good job of minimizing waste while keeping feed in front of the cows; Instruct them on how to improve and fix errors. Being a good teacher will pay for itself in consistent diet delivery.
Carson and husband Steve partner in Harkdale Farms of Newbury, Vt. She’s also a professor at Vermont Technical College.
This article published in the January, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.