An Extra Pound of Feed

David Balbian, Area Dairy Specialist
Central New York Dairy and Field Crops

April 15, 2019

What I specifically mean is an extra pound of feed dry matter. For a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) that is 50% dry matter, it would be 2 pounds of that TMR which would represent 1 pound of dry matter. 

For typical one group or high group TMRs that additional 1 pound of dry matter would support between 2 and 2.5 pounds of milk. That would assume all of the nutrients went into milk production. We never know how individual cows will partition nutrients. So, some or all nutrients could go to growth (1st calf heifers) or to replenish body condition on thin cows. In any regard, the nutrients derived from additional feed can be quite valuable. 

A dairy nutritionist I know has mentioned to me that he will never forget the advice a professor in college gave. He said, "One of the things you will face when you are working with dairy farms is bare bunk disease."
 
The first thing to think about is feed availability. Is there feed available to your cows nearly around the clock (23 hours/day)? This will depend on your feeding schedule, how often you push feed up (so the cows can reach the feed), and how much feed you target to be left over per day.

I know some of you may be saying I want nothing left over because feed is too expensive to waste. That approach could be limiting feed intake on the herd or at least on individual cows. In the past, a common industry recommendation was to have 5% left over. Today, many well managed herds are targeting 2 to 3% left over. They also may not be discarding that left over feed, as was a common practice in the past. It may be added back to a lower group ration or an older heifer group. Try not feeding it to younger heifers because of the risk of spreading Johne's disease. 

What does your manger surface look like? Is it smooth & easy to clean? OR is it rough pitted concrete with slimy & stinky feed reside left between the rough concrete? That will have an impact on feed intake. 

How often do you dispense fresh feed and how do you manage that feed? Some farms are able to feed once per day with multiple push-ups. Others find that feeding 2 or 3 times/day works best for them. Cows are motivated to eat when fresh feed is dispensed. Is there fresh feed (or feed pushed up) when cows return to the barn after milking? How stable is that feed? Is secondary fermentation causing the TMR to heat up in the feed bunk? If that is the case, what is the cause? Is it starting at your storage? Is the face of your bunk silo too wide or poorly managed? Are you loading the mixer wagon the night before, rather than loading with fresh feed in the morning?

Do cows have enough resting time? This has been deemed to be Vitamin R when it comes to dairy nutrition! Tons of research has shown that cows have a strong desire to rest and that inadequate resting time significantly reduces milk production (and feed intake). Cows should have comfortable dry stalls with enough time to get 12 to 14 hours/day of lying time. How much time do cows (the last ones into the parlor) stand in the holding area? We'd like to see cows standing no more than 1 hour per milking for both 2X and 3X milking. This means (hopefully) that when the last cows return from the milking parlor the first cows are done eating and have laid down, thus providing that space for late arriving cows to eat. 

Overcrowding can be a large contributor to reduced resting time. This is especially true with 3 or 6 row barns, where there is actually inadequate feed bunk space with 100% stocking density. When excessive overcrowding occurs animals will frequently sacrifice eating time to achieve adequate resting time. Grouping first calf heifers together (not having to compete with older cows) has proved to be very beneficial to those younger animals in feed intake and milk production. 

How about feed bunk space? Current guidelines are for 24 inches of feed bunk space per cow. Most head locks provide that spacing. However, from a practical standpoint we often see a few slots open, especially with large mature cows. This means we typically use a little more than 24 inches/cow. If you have a fresh cow group the recommendation is often 30 inches of bunk space/cow. 

IF we are able to make some changes to increase feed intake by one pound of dry matter what would be the economics? Most one group TMRs or high group TMRs will cost between $0.11 and $0.13 per pound of dry matter. Current milk prices for most people are between $15 and $18/cwt. That would be $0.15 to $0.18 per pound of milk. So, let's say our one pound of dry matter costs $0.13. Let's say we get 2 pounds of milk at a price of $16.50. The milk value would be ($0.165 x 2) $0.33. That would give us a ($0.33 - $0.13) $0.20 economic benefit/cow/day. On 100 cows milking that would be a $20/day benefit or a ($20 x 365) $7,300 benefit per year. Is this equal to getting a $20 or $22 milk price? No, but it can help even with our low milk prices. 

Do these things always work out as my example above? No, you're likely to see varying results because we cannot always predict how your cows will partition the extra nutrients consumed. That being said, the benefits to higher feed intake are almost always positive. What might happen if you make a change and get a 2 pound increase in dry matter intake?    




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