Feed menu affects cow performance

A consistent rumen environment every day for every dairy cow is a prime input for financial success, but too often feed variations result in losses, a Diamond V regional sales manager warns.

“Variation in feed will cause variable performance,” Tom Oelberg told the Colorado Dairy Nutrition Conference in Greeley, Colo. As a field technician who performs feeding audits on dairies, he has seen the worst and the best of mixing scenarios.

When it comes to the mixer, “mixing time and load size are the two biggest problem areas,” said Oelberg, who offers these checklist tips for the wagon:

• Make sure blades are sharp.

• Ensure the kicker plate is in good condition.

• The cleanout must be good.

• Load cells should be weighed accurately.

• Allow adequate mixing time after the final ingredient is added.

• Make sure the wagon is level.

• Get rid of twine wrapped around screws.

• Use super-magnets on the discharge chutes.

Key Points

• Feed variation means cow performance variation.

• Most feed problems originate with mixing.

• Mixing order can have a substantial impact on variation.

The issue of blade sharpness or worn mixers is vital, he said, since this can affect mixing time needed to assure a load with the least variation.

“A lot of wagons are being overloaded,” he reports. As a result, the variation in the mix is high, leading to irregular performance among animals.

Overfilling or undermixing, as well as worn mixers and improper liquid loading, can cause load variations, he said. Importantly, the ingredient loading sequence can lead to variations, Oelberg noted.

He believes the most favorable mixing order is as follows:

• large squares or rounds of hay or straw

• dry fine ingredients and feed additives

• cottonseed or on-farm pre-blend

• haylage

• corn silage

• wet byproducts

• liquid

The mix order, he added, may depend on inclusion levels. He also urges producers to work with a nutritionist for a proper evaluation of mix consistency.

“Wet distillers and other wet byproducts need to be blended with large particles before mixing with fine particles to prevent clumping, or they should be added towards the end of the loading sequence,” he said.

Even if the variation from the mixer is perfect, there can be problems with cows in the barn getting the right intake, Oelberg explained. Some problems that can impact proper feeding include:

• feed delivery before cows return from the milking parlor

• feed delivery as cows are pushed toward the parlor

• manure scraping, stall grooming and bedding during feeding

• uneven feed delivery along bunks

“Cows are territorial, and if there is not enough feed in front of them, they may not move to where it is,” said Oelberg.

“They should not need to reach out too far go get the feed as well,” he said.

Regularly checking variation in feeding should be an ongoing management process, he added.

For more information, Oelberg may be reached at toelberg@diamondv.com.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.