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0208 EL: Managing feeders

Tom Fuhrmann DVM Published on 29 February 2008

Managing dairy farm workers involves three principles.

The first is to organize their work to be productive and efficient. Second, train workers in these work systems. The third principle is to monitor worker performance by measuring results. Monitoring assures managers that results are as expected and gives workers confidence they are working correctly.

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Feeders are some of the most important workers on dairies. In many cases, they are not managed very well. You’ve heard the saying, “there are three rations fed on every dairy: the one formulated, the one mixed and the one fed.” To be certain the one formulated is the one fed, manager your feeders. A better saying might be, “you don’t manage your feeding program, you manage feeders!” Higher milk production and fewer health issues will be the result.

Link your monitoring efforts to your feeder’s performance. While you can monitor daily milk and butterfat, these production levels can be inconsistent for many reasons other than how your feeder is working. Monitoring daily dry matter intake (DMI) per pen is another monitor tool. I see many large dairies that each day measure feed output and feed refusals, count cows in each pen and then calculate DMI. When results vary with no other apparent reason, feeder performance should be investigated.

Feed management software is a great monitoring tool. Most programs compute DMI easily when data are supplied. But software equipped with radio wave transmission capability between the feed truck or wagon and the computer can identify feed ingredient loading and unloading errors for each ingredient and for each pen of cattle fed. I’ve witnessed many examples of trusted, experienced feeders that performed poorly after feed management software programs were installed. Their managers never realized how many errors were made. At the same time, I’ve seen feeders improve and become extremely proficient when they were presented with reports daily that documented their feed loading and unloading skills. Monitoring improved these workers, results and elevated their confidence and self-esteem.

Manage feeders and your feeding program will improve. Managers will see greater cow performance; feeders will take pride in knowing they are doing their job well. EL

Dr. Tom Fuhrmann DVM
Consultant and owner of Dairy Works
Tom can be reached at

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