Cows love consistency. This age-old adage rings true today more than ever. Dairies often focus on rigid routines in the milking parlor, but this same expectation of consistency is often neglected on the front end of the cow.
    What time is your first load of feed dispensed on your dairy? If that answer starts with the words “it depends,” you may want to revisit your procedure. There are always unforeseen circumstances such as equipment breakdown. The past several months has tested our ability to work through adverse weather conditions. Be proactive and have a contingency plan to deal with the time delay this may cause.
    Well-managed dairies can have feeding start times consistently within 10 to 15 minutes from one day to the next. If you have multiple feeders on your dairy, make sure their routines are consistent to one another. Dairies that feed to groups in the parlor may see some variation as milking times fluctuate.
    It is important that your total mixed ration mixer is level during the filling process. When it is not, ingredients tend to migrate to the lowest part of the mixer and often result in uneven distribution at feed out. I can share a few examples where a back-up tractor was hooked to the TMR mixer and the drawbar was at different elevations. In most cases, this attachment height can be readjusted.
    A more common cause for improper mixer positions is unlevel ground. The solution may be as simple as relocating the mixer to a more level location. Sometimes a more permanent fix is necessary, requiring you to build up the surface with concrete.
    Ingredients should be added in the middle of the mixer or loaded evenly across the mixer. This is especially critical with liquid ingredients. Several dairies have implemented a distribution bar with multiple drop points into the mixer.
    Ingredient loading order can vary depending on which ingredients are included in your ration. Concentrates and lower-inclusion ingredients are generally added earlier in the mixing process to optimize their mixing. Forages are normally added last. The exception would be the addition of baleage and unprocessed dry hay or straw.
    The physical form and particle size of the forages going into the TMR mixer wagon also impacts the amount of time a load needs to be mixed. Costs associated with preprocessing hay or straw are often alleviated with a reduction in mixing time. The decision when to engage the PTO and at what speed is also important to achieve a consistent mix.
    The Penn State Shaker Box is a valuable tool to assess mixing time. Undermixing will show considerable variation from the beginning to the end of the load. Overmixing often results in reduction of forage particle sizes. In both cases, cow health can be compromised.
    Overfilling your TMR mixer can result in significant variation. It is impossible to get a consistent mix when feed is bubbling over the side of your mixer, not to mention the dollars lost in shrink caused by overfilling.
    Mixer maintenance is essential to achieving consistent mixing. Worn out knives, kicker plates or augers can all cause tremendous variation to the TMR mix. Load cell integrity should be monitored and calibrated routinely.
    The consistency of the ration in front of the cow is paramount to cow health and performance. Work with your feed team to ensure the best possibility for success.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.