Know your cows by monitoring dry matter intake
Over the span of my career working in the dairy industry, there is one management practice that is lacking on too many dairy operations: monitoring dry matter intake. This applies to not only the lactating herd but all the other animal groups as well. There seems to be this logic that for every management practice implemented there should be an immediate performance response. In the thirty years of feeding cows I can't recall ever seeing this happen and have it maintained consistently over time.
The goal of monitoring dry matter intake is getting to know your cows. This is extremely important for understanding what is normal and what is abnormal for the operation. It can also help explain how the cows may be responding to forage quality changes, ration changes, or labor's implementation of the feeding program. Only by monitoring intakes can a producer appreciate what may be happening and how the animals are responding to any corrections. Along with dry matter intake, milk production should be monitored as well.
A practice will not get implemented unless it is made a priority and there is buy-in from all involved parties. An action plan has to be measurable. Here is an example plan for monitoring dry matter intake in a herd feeding a total mixed ration.
Action plan for monitoring dry matter intake
Monitor average dry matter intake and production for the lactating herd on a monthly basis to access herd performance for as long as the herd is milking.
Develop a computer template for recording weekly dry matters and updating the rations according to the new dry matters.
Every Wednesday test dry matters on all high moisture ingredients and update the feeding sheet. Record dry matter percent of the updated herd ration into the computer template.
Record daily batch weights and number of cows/pen. Measure refusals every other day.
At the end of each month summarize pen data for dry matter intake. Calculate the average intake for the herd and record that information along with the average milk production, fat and protein.
Discuss results with the feeder on a monthly basis and the profit team on a quarterly basis.
In order to appreciate if a management strategy is working or not, monitoring an economic component is necessary. 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 starting July 2014
Note: July's milk price: $25.32/cwt; feed cost/cow: $6.10; average milk production: 81 lbs.
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®. All market prices will be used.
Below 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 year. All market prices will be used.
Standardized feed cost/non-lactating animal/day starting July 2014