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TMR audit leads to production and bottom-line benefits

David Greene Published on 11 February 2013
lost grain

A recent TMR audit on a 7,200-cow dairy operation focused on its complex feeding system. As dairy size increases and multisite dairies become more common, feeding operations are becoming more complex.

At this operation, the feed center supplied four dairies. Two were located within a mile of the center; two were 2.5 miles away.



To reach three of the dairies, the mixer truck crossed a state highway, which limits the weight it can carry.

This made for a particularly inefficient situation. After a full load was mixed, part was dropped at the dairy on the same side of the state highway as the feed center.

With part of its load dropped, the mixer truck now met the highway’s weight requirements and could legally cross the highway. The logistics made it difficult to keep cows fed and fed on time.


An evaluation of the operation revealed strength and areas for improvements. Its farm was well managed. The key personnel – a farm manager, feed department manager and four dairy managers – did a really good job, and each operating area was proficient.

The herd produced more than 75 lbs of milk per cow per day, extremely good production given the location and time of year.


The farm manager kept everything running and helped give guidance to the dairy managers as well as the feed department manager. Clearly he created a positive atmosphere for employees to work in because all the employees wanted to do a good job and did not look for shortcuts.

The dairy managers read the bunks each morning and relayed the amount of total mixed ration (TMR) needed to the feed department manager, who made adjustments on loads during the day. The dairy managers were conscientious, not wanting the cows to run out of feed.

The feed department manager was doing a good job of keeping forage dry matters in line, adjusting loads for the day and making sure forages were brought to the feed center on time so loads went out efficiently. The volume of feed needed and the variability of grass forages made this a big challenge due to changes in forage dry matter.

The feeders were mixing consistent TMRs. Any variation was minimal, with the coefficient of variation within the loads within tolerable limits. They delivered feed to the correct pens in the correct amounts.

If TMR variation existed, it was due to wear on the mixer augers and kicker plates and, possibly, overloaded mixers. Grain pre-batches were made with an older, truck-mounted mixer. It was worn and had considerable buildup on the auger.

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Corn was caked on the auger with molasses, which would cause pre-batches to not mix well.

The employee who makes the pre-batch loads the molasses before the corn because it saves time and a move for the mixer.

During two consecutive 3 a.m. visits, I noticed considerable refusals being pushed out, a significant cost to the dairy.

The refusals were fed to a low group but were not the best ration for low cows, as they had higher body condition scores (BCS).

The higher energy density ration contributed to considerable unwanted weight gain in the late-lactation cows.

Decreasing refusals and feeding the low group a low ration would save the dairy money. On the other hand, the cows were not being shorted on TMR, and production was not suffering.

The high refusal level resulted from the dairy managers’ concern that something would happen. For instance, the cows would run out of feed if the feed was not delivered on time. Therefore, they fed more than needed.

The managers’ number one goal was to keep feed in front of the cows to maintain production. What they didn’t realize was the cost of the refusals being fed to the low group. Refusals at two of the dairies ranged from 10.5 percent to 12.5 percent of feed.

We also looked at the turn time for feeders. A turn begins with the loading of the mixer and ends with the feeder returning empty for the next load.

The farm uses one truck-mounted mixer and one tractor with a pull-type mixer for the lactating cows. The truck takes one hour per turn; the tractor, approximately an hour and 20 minutes. They spent a lot of time traveling.

Another opportunity related to controlling shrink at the feed center. Several loads of ingredients are delivered daily. The bays at the commodity shed would overflow at times, allowing for shrink or contamination between ingredients.

In addition, mixers were overfilled to maximize load size and minimize the number of loads per day. During their final mix time, though, feed would spill out and create variation among loads.

Team discussion

Following my evaluation, the farm manager asked all employees involved with the feeding operation to join us in going over my findings and in working together toward manageable solutions.

Present at the meeting were all the feeders, the feed department manager, dairy managers, calf and heifer managers, maintenance department manager, farm manager, farm veterinarian, CEO and CFO.

It is important to have everyone involved present. Everyone sees the issues and can contribute to solutions so everyone has buy-in. Each person was able to share their opinions, ask questions and join in the discussion. Seeing the situations from each person’s perspective is important. Different departments see situations differently.

The biggest issue was the excessive daily refusals. The team decided to decrease refusals from 10 percent – 12 percent to 5 percent initially and to continue working them down. In achieving this goal, the farm will save approximately one million dollars annually between the two dairies.

The use of computer feeding software is being explored to help manage the task. More communication is encouraged between the feed department manager and dairy managers to keep everyone on the same page. The feed department manager now visits each dairy multiple times per week to enhance the communication process.

I also recommended the monitoring of sorting, keeping TMR variation to a minimum, and accurately measuring forage dry matter each day to minimize refusals.

To shorten turnaround time for the mixers, the use of stationary mixers with shuttle trucks was discussed. The shuttle trucks weigh less than mixers, so each can carry more TMR across the highway, eliminating stops at two dairies per load.

During the evaluation of stationary mixer use, the team decided to use the truck mixer to deliver the longer loads because it has a shorter turnaround time.

We also discussed methods to reduce shrink, the cost of shrink and ways to accurately monitor shrink. At 1 percent, shrink costs the farm approximately $200,000 per year.

We also discussed the mixing order of the grain pre-batch. Moving the addition of the molasses to the middle of the mix order helps prevent buildup on augers.

Having performed numerous on-farm audits, the TMR audit team finds that its recommendations can make an immediate impact on production, but sometimes the findings impact the bottom line and not current production. PD

PHOTO 1: Overfilling loads caused some variation in the TMR and caused increased shrink while mixing.

PHOTO 2: Improper mixing order was causing build-up on the mixer auger. Photos courtesy of Diamond V.

David Greene
  • David Greene

  • Dairy Field Technical Specialist
  • Diamond V
  • Email David Greene/a>