Dealing with Everyday Challenges on a Dairy Farm

When it rains, it pours: broken TMR mixer, running out of feed, and a drop in the milk fat test pose challenges to the herd.
Dealing with Everyday Challenges on a Dairy Farm - Articles


Penn State Dairy Cows

Last month I was waiting for spring to arrive and in May summer came bringing both the heat and humidity. There were some unexpected occurrences in May. The beginning of the month the TMR mixer broke, which added interesting dynamics. And as if that was not enough, we ran short on cottonseed hulls, which meant removing them from the non-research diets so research cows would have a consistent ration until a new load arrived.

I am the first to admit that when it comes to farming, I am definitely not mechanically inclined. I need to rely on others for guidance in that area. Fortunately Travis Edwards, assistant manager, is very good with equipment. It just so happened the day he and I were conducting an educational program at the dairy barns that is when the mixer broke. Fortunately we had a back-up mixer, but that required calculating the batch weights by hand. Other than cows getting fed a bit later than usual, everything else seemed okay. It was determined that one of the load cells was not working properly and needed fixed. This all happened on May 1.

On Friday May 3rd it became apparent that cottonseed hulls would not make it until the delivery scheduled for the following week. Research cows are the priority when it comes to maintaining a consistent ration so for several days the hulls were used for them while the non-research cows got a 50/50 mix of corn grain and grass hay to replace the hulls. I checked the cows' performance on Monday and everything appeared to be okay. I talked to the feeder to check on how the mixer was working and red flags went off. The amounts being fed or at least what the mixer said was being fed did not mesh with what I know our cows will eat. After doing dry matters and updating the rations, the dry matter intakes for the pens were down by 7 pounds per cow yet milk production was holding steady. When I calculated the dry matter intake efficiency, it was too high. It would be nice if our cows were that efficient but knowing what our cows eat, I knew this was incorrect. The feeder was planning on decreasing the amount fed because of the large amounts of refusals. At the time I was not sure if this was a real effect based on no hulls in the ration or was there still a problem with the mixer? I discussed with the feeder what might be happening and instructed him to keep the amounts the same. We contacted someone to check the mixer to make sure there was not another under lying problem. As it turned out, there was a problem. Once that was corrected, the amounts showing up to get mixed were more in line with where they should have been. Fortunately, the mixer problem and the couple of days without hulls did not negatively affect the cows.

There was another interesting development related to components. On May 14th the fat test dropped to 3.49% from 3.66% and on the 16th it was 3.23%. This information did not get recorded on LOL's website until the following week and the fat test for May 18 was 3.66%. So the fat test rebounded without any ration change. After asking a multitude of questions to figure out what may have happened, the only connection we could make was the tank alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. on the 16th for too much agitation. We had another milk fat blip on the 28th and 30th where it dropped to 3.49% and 3.47% respectively. Again, without any adjustments to the ration, the components rebounded on their own. There does not seem to be any connection to dry matter intake or a problem with the bulk tank. Amounts being mixed in the mixer were consistent and the dry matters on all our forages were very consistent for the month. I am at a loss to explain what might be happening but I will continue to monitor and ask questions. For the month of May the herd averaged 86.3 pounds with a 3.67 % fat, 3.13 % protein, 183,000 SCC and 8.8 mg/dl MUN.

IOFC Results

Month and Year No Risk Mgt Gross Milk Price/cwtW/ Risk Mgt Gross Milk Price/cwtMilk income/cowFeed cost/cowIOFCAverage milk lbsLow BenchmarkHigh benchmark

IOFC Graph