Four ways to improve feed bunk management
Dairy Focus Consultant – Connor Willems
Dairy Focus Support – Morgan Westover
Animal Nutrition Marketing Intern – Kristen Burkhardt
Feed is the largest expense on a dairy farm, which is why feed management should not be overlooked. In order to produce milk, cows have to eat. For cows to eat, feed must be available all the time. Pushing up feed may be a simple concept, but it is a powerful feed management tool!
It is recommended to push up feed at least every two hours. One way to verify protocols are being followed is by placing time-lapse cameras in the barn. Connor Willems, Cargill Dairy Focus Consultant, likes to put cameras up quarterly for his customers regardless of if the dairy is facing an issue or not. He uses the cameras to audit feeding and push up protocols over a period of 7 to 10 days and identifies opportunities. Here are four ways to improve feed bunk management:
- Feed availability is the biggest factor when it comes to pushing up feed. You can’t push up feed that isn’t there. Cows need feed in front of them 24/7. In addition, time between cleaning out the previous day’s refusal and laying down fresh feed should not exceed 30 minutes. We can evaluate this within our time-lapse camera audits.
- It is most common to mix and drop feed once a day for practicality and efficiency reasons. Though, more drops will stimulate eating. If there are bunk stability issues with feed, twice a day may help alleviate them.
- Weigh backs (refusals) are another element when it comes to the feed bunk. The goal is to have 2 – 5% weigh backs each day. If you don’t account for weigh backs, your cows may run out of feed and this could impact milk production. If you overestimate, then you are paying for feed that isn’t consumed.
- Weigh backs provide enough feed for the sub-dominant cows to still have the chance to eat after the dominant cows are up at the bunk.
- In fresh and prefresh cow pens, target higher refusal levels such as 5 – 10% as the consequences of running short on feed in these groups outweighs the economic cost of weigh backs.
- Robotic feed pushers are gaining popularity on dairy farms. This technology can push feed up at the same time and frequency every day without pulling labor away from other areas. However, you still should evaluate the robot like an employee.
- Is the automatic feed pusher close enough to the feed bunk? Did the robot breakdown and you didn’t catch it right away? Time-lapse cameras can help verify these questions as well.
- Overcrowded pens need a strict push-up schedule. These cows must have a fresh meal anytime they decide to go to the bunk. With more competition at the feed bunk, make sure you continue to evaluate your push-up protocol and make it a priority in your daily schedule.
- The definition of overcrowding is more cows than headlocks. It is common to see 130 – 150% overcrowding and that is the most economical place to be as it allows more milk to be shipped with less fixed cost and structure. If we decide to overcrowd, not having feed available will hurt overall return.
Benefits from improved feed bunk management can include cows consuming smaller meals, aiding a more stable rumen pH and increased dry matter intake (DMI).
Consistent eating patterns and increased DMI are both positives for milk production and net income. Find a protocol that works best for your farm, ensure it is being followed, and continue to evaluate your performance. Work with your local Dairy Focus Consultant to create your feed pushup protocol or evaluate it. This simple feed management opportunity can really help your herd thrive.