Observe Cow Eating Behavior
May 26, 2009
By Rick Lundquist
Watching cows eat can tell you a lot. I like to spend a few minutes of each dairy visit just observing what the cows are doing with the TMR, without disturbing them.
Ideally, I want to see the cows eating aggressively, with no hesitation as they eat down through the pile of feed. I want them to take big mouthfuls of feed, raising their heads as they aggressively chew the feed. Sorting is probably a normal cow behavior, even though it is undesirable from our point of view. I don’t want to see the cow nosing through the feed or leaving circles in the pile, while she sorts through the TMR. If the cows are not eating, I want to see them drinking or lying down and chewing their cud. I don’t want to see them just nibbling at the feed or playing with it or tossing it over their backs.
Proper mixing and feeding management can eliminate sorting and maximize dry matter intake.This includes having a fresh, well mixed TMR available when the cows return from the parlor.
Check silage dry matters regularly and adjust the TMR accordingly.
The TMR should be about 50% moisture to reduce sorting. Adding water or liquid feeds can help.
Reduce TMR spoilage.
Feed more often, especially during the summer. Don’t feed spoiled forages. Remove any spoilage layer from the silage pile. Mixer wagons are also a source of mold and can inoculate the feed with mold every time you mix feed, so regular cleaning helps. Feeding calcium propionate or other mold inhibitors can help reduce spoilage during the summer.
Optimize mixing performance for your particular mixer.
Don’t overload the mixer. If cows are sorting, try altering the mixing time and order. Each mixer may perform differently with different feeds, so this is something you may have to experiment with. Generally you don’t want to add more than about six individual ingredients and less than 100 lbs of each ingredient to the mixer. Premix some of the dry ingredients if necessary. This prevents weighing errors and reduces over or under mixing.
Confirm the success of your feeding management with cow observations. No matter what the computer says, the cows are always right.
--Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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