A lot of work has gone in to improving milk quality assurance. However, TMR quality assurance is just as important. Nutrition can greatly influence cow health and feed is the single greatest cost to dairy owners —accounting for over half of the total cost on the dairy farm. Because nutrition greatly impacts cow health and farm costs, it's very important to properly manage what is fed and how it's fed to dairy cows. One way to do that is through consistency.
A TMR is a great way to ensure that cows are consistently fed the same meal. The TMR is formulated very carefully by a dairy nutritionist to provide the cow with all of the nutrients she requires. However, it is equally important to follow the recipe the nutritionist created.
Some common feed problems include incorrect measurement of feed ingredients, over filling the mixer, and overmixing. Too much or too little of any feed ingredient can be a big problem because the diet is formulated to provide a balanced diet to the cow. Overfilling the mixer can cause feed to spill out. This is just as bad as under weighing feed ingredients because that feed will not be delivered to the cow. Overmixing breaks apart feed pieces which can lower the cow's ability to effectively digest her food. Feed should be mixed so it has a uniform appearance but it should not be overmixed.
Cows need to have access to the TMR at least 16 to 18 hours per day. Feed the TMR at least once per day so it is available right after cows return from the morning milking. If only feeding once daily, frequent TMR push up is critical to maintain healthy, productive cows. Feed should be pushed up before cows return from other milkings and when there is no longer food within the cow's reach for a total of 4 to 6 times per day. As you examine the bunk, there are visual signs you can look for to determine if feed needs to be pushed up.
Look at the cow's reach. A cow can stretch her neck out to reach feed that is about 2 feet away. As cows eat feed, they push it further and further out of reach. Feed needs to be no more than 2 feet away in order for the cows to eat it.
If cows are struggling to reach the feed or most of it is out of reach, it is definitely time to push up feed. As you walk through the barn, be sure to monitor the bunk so feed can be pushed up allowing cows to have continuous access to feed.
Whether you're feeding TMR or not, cows need to have consistency. They need to have consistency in their diet and continual access to feed throughout most of the day, but especially right after milking. As you think about your own feed management practices, be sure to keep consistency in mind.
Binversie is the Brown County Extension agriculture educator.