I recently took part in a roundtable discussion with nine independent nutritionists from around the country to share views on feeding management topics that affect our clients' profitability.
Steve Stewart of Valley Ag Software put the outline together and led the discussion. We all agreed that while diet formulation is important, feeding management really makes the difference in a successful feeding program.
Following are a few of the questions discussed and the consensus of the group.
What's the correct amount of feed in the bunk just prior to the next feeding?
With margins extremely slim, should we feed to an empty bunk? Consensus:
Underfeeding is a risk when feeding to an empty bunk, even under current economics. Refusals should be minimized, but you need to recognize when minimal feed actually reduces intakes. Most of us recommend 3% to 5% refusals.
Should mixing and delivery be done by a schedule or by a batch approach?
With scheduled feeding, the pens for the feed drops and the amount of feed drops per pen are known prior to mixing a load and are controlled by management, not the feeder. Pen counts need to be accurate. The batch approach is controlled by the feeder. This approach allows you to react more quickly to developments during the day and to make fuller loads and fewer mixes. Accurate pen counts aren't as critical. Consensus:
Both work well, but the batch approach should be attempted only if you have absolute trust in your feeder to read bunks and adjust accordingly.
What's the best order of mixing ingredients? Consensus:
There's no single answer. It depends on the type of ingredient (long hay, silage or heavy ingredients), type of mixer (vertical, horizontal and brand) and location of the ingredients (which affects the mixing time). Don't overload the mixer. The end result needs to be monitored (and adjusted if necessary) by visual appearance of the total mixed ration (TMR) and with a shaker box, but also by observing sorting, eating behavior and manure.
What should be the maximum number of ingredients added to the TMR? Consensus:
Six ingredients are about the maximum. Any more than this increases the risk of errors. Pre-mixing some dry ingredients is recommended to reduce the number of different feeds weighed into the TMR and to reduce mixing time.
What's the minimum amount of an ingredient in any recipe?
Some feeds are more difficult to add in small amounts—for example, dry hay, straw and clumpy or sticky ingredients such as wet distillers' grains. Scale bounce alone is often 20 lb. to 40 lb. Weighing errors have less impact on the final mix when larger amounts are weighed into the TMR. Consensus: There was some disagreement on this point, but 100 lb. is the minimum most of us recommend for any feed without including the ingredient in a premix.
How often should you check dry matters of silage or other wet for-ages? Consensus:
About once a week, or if there are obvious changes. But don't adjust the amount in the ration if the dry matter changes less than 1% to 2%. This is normal variation in a silage pile. Haylage is typically more variable than corn silage.
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