Frequent feed push-ups offer hidden benefits
There has been a long-standing belief among dairy producers that pushing up feed several times a day will stimulate cows to come to the bunk and eat more feed.
Cow behavior studies find this is only half true, says Trevor DeVries, a dairy specialist with the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
Yes, cows will come to the bunk when feed is pushed up, he says. But their overall dry matter intake over the course of the day will not necessarily increase.
What actually happens is that cows come to the bunk more frequently but eat smaller meals. There are still benefits to pushing up feed frequently, however: The physical act of pushing up feed blends sorted feed back together, so cows get a more consistent ration.
Plus, smaller, more frequent meals mean there is less feed slugging into the rumen, less chance of acidosis and a more stable rumen environment. And when that happens, the pH profiles of the rumen flatten out, with less digestive upsets, and the potential for increases in milk fat percentage is greater.
More frequent delivery of fresh feed has even more advantages over feeding once per day. In a study conducted by DeVries, feed was offered once, twice and four times per day. Feeding twice per day increased the total time cows spent at the bunk by 10 minutes per cow per day; feeding four times increased the total time by 14 minutes.
There were other benefits to more frequent feeding as well:
- It allowed the lower-ranking, subordinate cows more access to feed. There were fewer displacements of lower-ranking cows by dominant herdmates when feed was delivered more than once per day.
- The neutral detergent fiber of the total mixed ration was lower, suggesting that cows did less sorting.
- Feed spoilage was less with more frequent feeding, particularly in summer.