Having a third party evaluate feed storage and preparation, ration mixing and delivery, ingredient variation and shrink, and labor and resources utilization can provide a fresh perspective where gaps may be in the system. The benefit to the producer is not only improved consistency and efficiency, but improved animal performance and income.
There are combinations of factors that can cause variation in TMRs and they can be both human and mechanical. Mixing times, overfilling, liquid feed distribution, worn mixers, auger speed, hay processing, loading sequence, un-level mixer and others can impact how consistently a ration is mixed and delivered. A major critical control point is silage management and the storage structure used, especially for horizontal structures. The goal is to extract a consistent source of feed while minimizing spoilage and shrink.
A general recommendation when filling the mixer for ingredient order is grains and low inclusion items early in the mixing sequence followed by higher volume ingredients (i.e. forages) and then liquid feeds as the last item. An independent person conducting a TMR audit provides unbiased assessments on where improvements are needed, especially related to the workings of the mixer.
Managing feed bunks for consistent intakes by all cows in the pen is the ultimate goal of implementing precision feeding. The questions to ask are: is the TMR delivered to the pen the same time every day, is the correct amount delivered, is the TMR evenly distributed, how many times during the day is the TMR pushed up, and how often is silage dry matter monitored? Cows have certain behaviors when it comes to eating. They will go to the bunk when fresh feed is delivered. When cows are returning from the parlor feed should be pushed up or delivered, otherwise they will lie down in their stalls. Over-crowded cows spend more time waiting to eat and thus get less time to eat. Cows tend to be territorial and will eat in certain areas along the bunk. The tendency is not to move to an area where there is feed even if their area is empty. Cows will eat at night if there is feed available. If the bunk is empty in the morning a question to ask is how long has it been empty?
Once an audit is completed there are on farm tools and practices to ensure good feeding management practices are being maintained. Utilizing the Penn State particle size separator is a simple and inexpensive way to check that loads are being mixed properly. This tool can be used to check particle size of the mix from the beginning to end of feed out within the same pen. Checking particle size over a course of several days is useful to confirm that protocols and equipment are functioning properly. Screening the refusals determines if cows are sorting the ration. In a well-developed and delivered TMR, the particle size distribution should be similar for the fresh feed versus the refusals.
Dorothy Pastor from Diamond V presented a wealth of information on TMR audits at the December 16, 2015 Penn State program "Feed Management by the Numbers". It illustrated the benefits to the cows and to the producer. Anyone interested in having an audit performed can contact Dorothy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action plan for conducting a TMR audit
Goal: Contact a third party to conduct a TMR audit within the next three months.
- Step 1: After the audit is completed review the results and priorities with that person.
- Step 2: Meet with the farm employees to review the audit results and the recommended changes to protocols.
- Step 3: Use the Penn State particle size separator monthly to monitor the first and last feed out from a pen of cows and at least 2 non-consecutive days on at least 3 different rations.
- Step 4: Record information and investigate human or mechanical issues if discrepancies occur.
Monitoring must include an economic component to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production. Starting with July's milk price, income over feed costs was calculated using average intake and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration contained 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion included corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen (Alltech product) and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices were used.
Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd. All market prices were used.
Income over feed cost using standardized rations and production data from the Penn State dairy herd.
Note: December's Penn State milk price: $18.55/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.47; average milk production: 84 lbs.
Feed cost/non-lactating animal/day.