It’s not just the feed, it’s timing, variability, balance

Dairy producers are urged to follow strict mixing protocols to avoid an incorrect ration mix that reduces feed digestibility

The good news is that hard work and diligence pay off in dairy production, with cows producing more milk fat with the same feed when feeding is done right.

The bad reality is that labour and time are always in short supply on dairy farms, resulting in many sub-optimal feeding practices that don’t produce optimal results.

However, a University of Guelph researcher told the Western Nutrition Conference Sept. 30 that research results and new feeding systems might help improve real in-barn performance.

“We think they’re getting X, but at the end of the day they’re getting Y,” Trevor DeVries said about the challenge of making sure feeding theory and intentions actually reach the cows in the barn.

Diets can be formulated to produce a hoped-for outcome, but the actual diet can be quite different if the feed isn’t mixed or delivered correctly.

DeVries said farmers are careful when using feed ingredients to ensure they achieve the right balance in the ration. However, sometimes they pay less attention to the mixing, which can cause swings in elements such as fibre length and significantly affect cow’s rumen efficiency.

“If there are different mixing protocols done on the farm … you get this up and down effect,” said DeVries. “That variability (in particle size) can be just as important as the actual nutrients going into the animal.”

Cows can also sort through feed better than many farmers realize, carefully selecting shorter fibres from the feed in front of them and leaving the longer ones behind.

DeVries said cows generally do better with multiple feedings per day, but many farmers don’t have the labour and equipment needed for multiple feedings.

Almost all of the new barns being built are based on robotic milking because of the labour problem, and that revolution might also come on the feeding side as technology provides a way to have multiple feedings with less waste and selection.

“Mechanizing or automating feeding processes is kind of the next step.”

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