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People are the key to diet consistency

Travis Thayer for Progressive Dairy Published on 17 November 2020

Change is hard – especially for cows, who are creatures of habit even more than we are. Any changes in a cow’s routine can quickly add up to compromise her health and performance. Some of these changes are out of our control, but the more consistency we can build into a cow’s diet and routine, the more she has the resiliency to deal with unforeseen changes.

The goal is to feed the same ration at the same time every day, so that every bite of feed delivered is the same, no matter what the location. Any time we have variability in the ration, we change conditions in the rumen, which negatively affects cow performance. So, how can we maintain consistency in the ration? The biggest factor that determines success is the human factor. Dairies that have well-trained employees and good communication are the most successful at delivering an accurate, consistent ration day in and day out.

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Measuring consistency in the ration

Over a decade ago, our company, led by Dr. Tom Oelberg, introduced a unique systematic approach to evaluate the operational efficiency of a dairy’s feeding program, called the TMR Audit. It is a comprehensive look at a dairy’s feeding process, ranging from feed ingredient management and storage, to how the feed is mixed, delivered, pushed up and consumed. TMR audits look for sources of variation in diet composition, distribution and consumption. Our representatives conduct hundreds of TMR audits each year, checking loads of TMR (total mixed ration) for consistency along the feedbunk, feedbunk delivery and management, feed center efficiency and shrink, and mixer maintenance.

Empowering people with knowledge

After a TMR audit is performed on a dairy, the results are reviewed with the management and feeder teams, highlighting any opportunities for improvement that may have been identified during the audit. In conjunction with this review, we often do a feeder training session to help the feed team understand the goals of the feeding program and how they can help keep the diet as accurate and consistent as possible.

Feeder training focuses on 4 general themes:

1. Safety first: Working with heavy equipment used to feed cows is a huge responsibility. Not only do feeders need to be vigilant and watch out for their own safety, but they also must constantly be attentive for others crossing their path or entering the feed area without announcing themselves. Any lapse in that focus or attention can lead to serious injury or death. Other employees or visitors on the farm should be instructed to always give feeders the right of way and to make sure they get the feeder’s attention and acknowledgment before entering the feed area.

2. Accuracy: It is important that feeders are focused on ensuring the diet the cows eat is as close as possible to the formulated diet.

3. Consistency: The goal is to feed the same ration at the same time every day, with regular feed push-ups to ensure feed is readily available to the cows.

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4. Communication: There are always going to be challenges – feed variability and/or quality, equipment issues, weather, etc. – that can negatively affect the feeder’s ability to deliver a consistent, accurate diet. Feeders should never hesitate to pick up the phone and call the manager or nutritionist if they observe anything that makes them doubt their ability to get an accurate, consistent, well-balanced diet to the cows at the same time every day. In fact, we often tell feeders they may observe something the nutrition consultant or dairy manager is unaware of, and communicating that observation may avoid a major issue with cow health and productivity.

The goal of feeder training is to communicate the “why” behind the complex protocols and procedures we ask them to follow. We strive to empower feed delivery technicians with the knowledge to deliver a high-quality, consistent diet and the ability to identify, communicate and work with the feed delivery team to solve challenges that stand in the way of getting that done. Optimally, feeder training is done in person, along with a review of the dairy’s TMR audit results, so feeders have specific feedback with identified areas of opportunity that directly apply to their day-to-day jobs.

Video training series now available in English and Spanish

Recently, our company collaborated with Dr. Robert Hagevoort of the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium to create a dairy feeder training video series, “A Noble Purpose – Dairy Feeder Training,” which provides the “why” for feeders when an in-person training session is not feasible. The videos are available to view on the Diamond V YouTube channel, in both English and Spanish. They are viewable as seven separate chapters of three to six minutes in length, or all together in one complete video that runs approximately 26 minutes.

The seven chapter titles are:

  1. Nutrition and cow health
  2. Silage management
  3. Commodity management
  4. Mixing factors
  5. Delivery
  6. Equipment function and maintenance
  7. Safety

While the videos include a separate chapter on safety, potential hazards and best safety practices are identified and emphasized throughout the chapters. There is no greater purpose than making sure everyone goes home safely at the end of each workday.

Include feed ingredients that support immunity and rumen health

People are certainly the biggest factor in ensuring delivery of an accurate, consistent ration each and every day. But, sometimes things outside our control can affect the ration and negatively affect immunity and rumen health, such as variation in feed quality or consistency, weather, disease challenges or equipment breakdowns. For those situations, feed additives that promote immunity, rumen health and stability are a great tool to help keep cows on track. Work with your nutritionist and veterinarian to choose a product that is backed by peer-reviewed research to help the herd stay healthy and productive during challenges beyond feeders’ control.

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Cows need consistency to stay healthy and perform at their best. By creating consistency in feed mixing and delivery through employee training and feedback, and including a feed ingredient that supports immunity and rumen health, you can start her off on the right hoof.  end mark

Travis Thayer
  • Travis Thayer

  • Dairy Technical Trainer
  • Diamond V
  • Email Travis Thayer

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