Where to start in component fed herds?

The precision of what cows consume can be uncertain. Component fed herds can apply precision feeding as successfully as herds feeding a total mixed ration.
Where to start in component fed herds? - Articles


An electronic bench scale operating off of a 9-volt battery and weighing feeds up to 250 pounds. This scale can be purchased on-line with a price range of $75-$135.

Production perspective

Pennsylvania is unique in that a large number of producers feed their cows each ingredient individually and numerous times throughout the day. The focus for these herds is the feeding sequence of fiber, energy and protein. The goal is to mimic the total mixed ration approach by feeding grain, protein supplements and/or top dress several times throughout the day to avoid extremes in rumen pH.

Component fed herds present their own set of challenges. The pros of feeding this way are that each individual animal can theoretically be fed to her level of milk production, body condition, and stage of lactation. The fresh cows can gradually be transitioned to a heavier grain ration. The cons of this feeding approach are the time commitments of having to feed multiple times during the day and making several trips around the barn. Cows are not receiving a balanced ration with each mouthful of feed consumed. Feeding is based on a forkful, grain scoop or a hay flake. The precision of what cows consume can be questionable. However, component fed herds can still apply precision feeding as successfully as herds feeding a total mixed ration. Dry matter intake can be monitored for cows and the weight of a grain scoop can be calibrated with each new delivery.

Action plan for monitoring dry matter intake


Monitor dry matter intake for average and peak (20 pounds greater than average) production for the lactating herd on a monthly basis to evaluate cow performance for as long as the herd is milking.

Step 1

On the first of each month, weigh forages fed to an average and peak producing cow. Use an electronic bench scale and fork in the amount of ensiled forage into a bucket to record the weight.

Step 2

On the first of each month test dry matters on all high moisture ingredients and record the percent.

Step 3

Record the weight of at least two hay bales and calculate the pounds of hay fed.

Step 4

At the first of each month and with the delivery of any new grain mixes, use the electronic bench scale to weigh a scoop of grain.

Step 5

Record all information and track monthly to compare intakes to nutritionist's ration.

Economic perspective

Monitoring an economic component is necessary 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 will be calculated using average intakes and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd.

Standardized IOFC*

Note: August's milk price: $26.03/cwt; feed cost/cow: $5.90; average milk production: 79 lbs. *Standardized started in July 2014.

The ration will contain 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion will include corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen® and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices will be 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 for the past 6 years. All market prices will be used.

Standardized non-lactating animal feed cost/day

*Standardized started in July 2014.