Feed with precision: Sustaining dairy quality and consistency

Delivering a consistent diet to cows day in and day out should be the goal for every dairy. Always remember to store feed properly, mix feed consistently, deliver feed routinely, and push feed frequently. When done correctly, it will pay significant benefits in cow performance, feed efficiency, and farm profitability.

Tom Oelberg, Ph.D.
Ruminant Field Technical Specialist, Retired
Diamond V

A dairy operation’s ability to deliver a quality and consistent diet, day after day, has become an increasingly important goal for many nutritionists and producers. Why? Because the consistency of the ration, and feed and nutrition management, have influential impacts on the health of your herd and the operation’s bottom line.

Here’s how to create a profitable, powerful, and performing program.

1. Store feed properly to avoid excess moisture, molds, or other factors that can cause shrink or degrade the feed ingredient
Obtaining and maintaining high-quality silage requires good forage management, especially in the areas of harvest, storage, and feed out. Minimizing exposure to air, keeping silage coverings in place, ensuring a dense silage pile pack, maintaining a smooth feedout face, and managing removal rates based on times of the year are all examples of efforts that can significantly reduce shrink. Make sure you don’t have extra silage remaining overnight, as this will cause excessive heating.

One of the most important things to remember when harvesting corn silage is whole-plant moisture level. The desired level of whole plant moisture will depend on whether the silage is stored in upright or horizontal silos. For bunkers and drive-over piles, the goal for whole-plant moisture is 66 percent to 68 percent and for vertical storage structures, 65 percent to 68 percent moisture.

When it comes to feeding strategies, consider blending silages to reduce moisture and nutrient variation and to dilute out any potential mycotoxins. When facing silage piles, tilt the face back slightly to reduce the risk of avalanches and collapses for safety reasons. During extreme heat, a good rule of thumb is to face it twice a day. Be sure to remember to remove any moldy or spoiled silage before facing.

2. Mix feed consistently every time, and ensure equipment is in good working order
How feed is mixed impacts variation, and minimal variation is very important in keeping cows healthy and maintaining high milk production.

Worn mixing equipment will increase the amount of time it takes to mix properly and decrease the quality of the mix – creating an increase in fuel costs. Monitoring and repairing these items as needed, such as kicker plates, is essential to maintain a high-quality TMR (total mixed ration). After the last ingredient is added, there is a tendency to quickly move the TMR to the bunk before it is adequately mixed. Increasing the final mix time from three to five minutes, depending on the type of mix and mixer, will allow for TMR to be properly blended. Routine maintenance and servicing are also crucial when it comes to keeping feed-mixing equipment operating properly.

3. Deliver feed at the same time, in the same manner, every feeding
Cows crave consistent feed. It’s critical to feed pens as close to the same time every day so dry matter intake stays as consistent as possible. Try to be within 20 minutes of the target time or the previous days’ time. Much like humans, these animals need a structured routine for activities, as well as specific nutrition to maximize performance, health, and overall wellbeing. One way to monitor feeding times is to use feed tracking software that will record TMR drop times for each pen. You should review this every week to see if your feeders are staying on track. Talk to the feeders to see if they are getting disrupted by truck drivers delivering hay and commodities to the dairy or if the feeder is trying to do other jobs during feeding.

Recruiting, training, and managing the labor responsible for ensuring the accurate and consistent delivery of feed has a big impact on a dairy’s overall performance and profitability.

4. Frequent feed push-ups and re-distribution along the feed bunks as needed
Often, we see cows out of feed for as long as four to seven hours. Every pound of dry matter eaten results in two pounds of milk produced. Making sure cows have the nutrition they need will ultimately pay long-term dividends for a dairy operation.

It’s very important to keep cows eating. Time-lapsed videos of feed bunks show that if cows can’t see the feed is up close, they will walk right by it. Keep feed pushed up at all times and redistribute as needed so that all cows in the pen have access 24/7.

The degree of overcrowding will dictate the frequency of pushups. More overcrowding requires more pushups. Start pushups one to two hours after the first feed drop and two to three hours after that. If dairymen desire a very low level of refusal, you might need to push up every hour, starting at midnight, until fresh feed delivery.

Delivering a consistent diet to cows day in and day out should be the goal for every dairy. Always remember to store feed properly, mix feed consistently, deliver feed routinely, and push feed frequently. When done correctly, it will pay significant benefits in cow performance, feed efficiency, and farm profitability.

About Tom Oelberg
Dr. Tom Oelberg has worked in the Upper Midwest (US) dairy industry for 32 years in a variety of roles. He spent 10 years as manager of animal research for a regional feed company. He also had a key role in the development of an effective rumen by-pass soybean meal product called Amino Plus. Dr. Oelberg spent 13 years with Monsanto Dairy Business utilizing his expertise in cow cooling, stall comfort, and feed bunk and silage management.
During his masters program in Dairy Science at South Dakota State University, he was the first in the U.S. to publish research showing how covering bunker silos reduces shrink on haylage. He earned his Ph.D. from the Ohio State University in Ruminant Nutrition. Dr. Oelberg also led the development of a transition cow model on CD-ROM in the late 1990s that was voted best among ag engineers. As a Field Technical Specialist for Diamond V, Dr. Oelberg is responsible for providing technical and research assistance as well as sales support. He also developed the TMR Audit® in 2008, introducing the ration quality assurance system on large dairies in the Upper Midwest. He co-authored chapters on the TMR Audit in 2014 Veterinary Clinics of North America Food Animal Practice and 2016 Large Dairy Herd Management.