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Small Fixes, Big Impact: Tips to Maximize Your Dairy’s Feeding Program

Jan 14, 2013

Are you and your employees actually following these steps for your most expensive input?

thayerBy Travis Thayer, Diamond V

Record grain and forage costs are cause to maximize the efficiency of your feeding program. As a member of the Diamond V TMR AuditTM team I have been able to help dairies improve feeding efficiency. A TMR Audit is a value-added service that Diamond V offers our customers. It involves a comprehensive evaluation of the feeding program; including ingredient inventory management, mixing and bunk management. Key areas to increase your feeding program efficiency include, but are not limited to, ingredient management, equipment maintenance, bunk management, and communication.

Feed Ingredient Storage and Management
Reducing shrink, especially losses associated with silages and wet feeds, are areas of opportunity to increase efficiency and savings. It starts with having a plan prior to ensiling. Properly packed and covered piles will promote proper fermentation and reduce shrink and spoilage. Using a quality silage inoculant can promote fermentation and dry matter recovery. Removing only one or two days of plastic while maintaining a smooth and vertical face will minimize exposure to oxygen and prevent spoilage. This practice also prevents dangerous overhangs. Remove only what is needed during the current feeding period. Loose silage left on the feeding pad for extended periods of time will cause excessive heating and spoilage, which will decrease nutrient value, palatability and can lead to digestive upsets. To prevent excessive spoilage and exposure to oxygen, only uncover enough silage for one to two days of use.

Keep the feed center area clean and organized. Store commodities in a covered area that is protected from the environment and pests. Be sure to rotate ingredient bay and implement "FIFO" (First–In-First-Out) to reduce waste and lose. The use of a Super Mix (combining ingredients) will improve mixing efficiency and accuracy. The feed center is an area of high traffic with large equipment and at times with limited visibility. We need to remind our employees of the importance of safety when entering the feeding center and silage piles.

Equipment Maintenance
Lack of proper mixer maintenance is another key area that can decrease the effectiveness of a feeding program. Maintenance schedules can vary significantly from manufacturer recommendations depending on farm size, ingredient choices, and environmental conditions. Mixer knives and kicker plates need to be inspected for wear on a regular basis. In vertical mixers, the kicker plate lifts the feed and begins the mixing process. Make calibration of scales part of your maintenance schedule. It is impossible to accurately load and deliver a TMR if you cannot measure it.

Feed Delivery and Bunk Management
The feeder should distribute a consistent TMR evenly along the entire feed bunk. Access to a consistent TMR is the most important aspect of bunk management; therefore, feed delivery and push up schedules should be reviewed to promote optimum DMI. Higher feed prices have caused the dairy industry to reevaluate appropriate refusal amounts. A key component to achieving desired refusal levels is correctly reading bunks. Ideally, this would be done as close to the feed delivery time as possible. If bunks are read once a day for all pens, it is important that they are evaluated at a consistent time with pen counts and movements communicated. If corrected action is needed, check moisture levels of feeds, pen counts and prior day’s ration accuracy.

Employee Training
Provide language appropriate (usually Spanish) training and regular refresher courses for your employees on proper feeding procedure. Communicate the dairy’s expectations, and provide regular feedback about employee performance. Even the best employees are destined to fail if they are not properly trained, don’t know what is expected of them, or don’t know how they are performing.

My job duties at Diamond V involve employee training in Spanish in a variety of areas, and that often involves feeder schools. Many customers have reported huge improvements to their feeding programs after their employees went through feeder training. I have found that employees generally take great pride in their jobs and are very eager to learn how to do them better. Check in with your feeders regularly – they are doing the work every day, and are often the first people to detect any problems that may occur. Make sure safety is a part of training sessions and performance evaluations as well. Safety on the dairy farm cannot be emphasized enough.

As owners, managers, and feeders we should strive to provide our cows a consistent TMR prepared in an efficient and timely manner that is in synch with other activities in the dairy. Small improvements in the feeding program will have large impacts in productivity, health, efficiency and profitability.

After obtaining a B.S. in Microbiology and a DVM Degree at UC Davis, Dr. Thayer practiced dairy production medicine in California’s Central Valley. He joined Diamond V in 2011 as Dairy Technical Trainer. For more information on TMR Audits™ or employee training in Spanish, contact him at tthayer@diamondv.com, or your local Diamond V representative.

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