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0208 EL: Feeding dairy cows

Elliot Block Published on 29 February 2008

Feeding the cows is one of the most important jobs on the dairy.

Much effort has gone into developing rations that meet the nutritional needs of each cow to improve performance and promote good health. Now it’s up to you to make sure ration ingredients are properly mixed and fed in a consistent, timely fashion.

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Mixing the correct ingredients to create the prescribed ration is essential for a successful, productive herd. By following a few guidelines and not cutting corners, you do your part in maintaining an efficient, profitable dairy.

1. Know the ingredients.
Make sure you understand which ingredients need to be fed to each group and the correct amounts. Also, check feed ingredient storage areas to ensure there are enough ingredients to complete the batch of feed. If you have any uncertainty, ask your supervisor for help or advice.

2. Begin filling the feed mixer.
Keep the mixer running as you add ingredients.

3. Ingredient order is important.
Add forages to the ration first, then concentrates. This will ensure that the concentrates are mixed properly with forages during the mixing process. On most dairies ingredients fed in smaller quantities, such as minerals and protein supplements, are mixed separately in batches that might last several days. This mix is added along with grain and possibly molasses after forages are in the mixer.

4. Proper silage bunker management.
If removing feed from a bunker, practice appropriate bunker face management to reduce feed spoilage. Maintain a flat bunker surface by scraping the face of the bunker downward, and move across the entire face of the bunker. Scoop up piles of forages and add them to the mixer as you go, and clean up as much of the pile as possible to avoid spoilage.

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5. Make sure feed is mixed thoroughly.
The length of time you run the mixer is critical to the feeding process. If the mixing time is too short, ingredients won’t be mixed properly. This allows cows to sort out the ingredients they prefer and could create an unbalanced diet. If the mixing time is too long forage particle length will shorten, affecting the ration’s forage quality and potentially causing problems with digestion.

6. Look at the load before feeding.
To know if a batch is mixed properly, visually inspect the load before delivering it to the cows. Ingredients should be mixed evenly and well-dispersed throughout—there shouldn’t be any clumps of forages or other ingredients not thoroughly mixed with the rest of the load. If the load appears to be well-mixed, then begin feeding the batch.

7. Bunk management is critical.
Feed should be delivered to a clean bunk, especially if it is the first batch of the day. Clean the bunk area according to your dairy’s protocol, and take time to look for and remove piles of accumulated feed. Note how much feed is left over and consider making adjustments to the amount of feed delivered. It is important that the cows not run out of feed, but too much uneaten feed causes sorting and spoilage.

When the bunk is clean, deliver the new feed evenly along the span of the bunk. Place the piles close enough to the cows so the feed can be easily consumed, but not so close feed goes into the stalls. Dispense the feed until the entire batch has been delivered. Check periodically to ensure that feed is accessible to the cows. Push feed closer to cows when needed.

Doing the same job the same way can seem repetitive. Keep in mind, the consistency you bring to the dairy’s feeding program delivers nutrients necessary to maintain herd health and productivity, leading to an efficient, well-run and profitable dairy operation. EL

Elliot Block
Nutritionist/Researcher
ARM & HAMMER
Animal Nutrition

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