ARLINGTON, Wis. – When thinking about feed quality and nutrition, Dr. Luiz Ferraretto, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, encouraged dairy farmers to consider the perspective of the cow. Ferraretto spoke at the Professional Dairy Producers Herd Management Workshop Nov. 3 in Arlington.
“When I was in school and thought I wanted to become a dairy nutritionist, I always had this thought that a dairy nutritionist formulates the diet,” Ferraretto said. “They do, but that is not the main thing that they do.”
Ferraretto explained the importance of integrating feeding system management, forage and feed quality, and bunk management in order to obtain the best results.
“You can do a great job of formulating the diet, but if it is not delivered so that they will consume it, it doesn’t do you any good,” Ferraretto said. “Obviously it takes teamwork with everyone doing the best job they can.”
When evaluating the feeding system and management, Ferraretto said to begin with looking at the process used to mix the total mixed ration and to evaluate the consistency of the final mix presented to the cows. He also said the frequency feed is offered and how often feed is pushed up are important.
Ferraretto suggested offering feed twice a day instead of once. Having more feed available throughout the day can increase intakes and provide for a higher milk yield, leading to improved feed efficiency and the reduction of slug feeding, he said.
Consistency in when and how the feed is mixed and offered can play an important role in the consumption of the TMR, Ferraretto said. He said variations can easily occur when different people are tasked with mixing and delivering the feed to the cows on different days or at different times. He urged dairy farmers to ensure all employees charged with feeding are well-trained and communicate with each other to help decrease differences in the way two people may mix and deliver the ration. He suggested developing a standard operating procedure for the job as a way to ensure as much consistency as possible between multiple operators.
When cows sort their feed, they are often missing certain parts of the ration, Ferraretto said. He said producers should look for evidence of sorting from the ration before refusal feed is removed.
When evidence of sorting is found, Ferraretto suggested feeding smaller amounts of the TMR on a more frequent basis. Adding less hay or straw to the mix, or processing the mix finer, can also help reduce the amount sorted out. Adding water or a liquid feed supplement can help make the mix more palatable and decrease sorting. Frequently pushing up the feed can also help increase the amount of the ration consumed.
Although not easily corrected, feed bunk space is a factor Ferraretto said plays an important role in the cow receiving the diet she is supposed to be consuming and can also affect how the cow’s rumen works.
Ferraretto shared research showing overcrowding can ultimately have more effect on rumen pH than dietary fiber.
“I realize you cannot just go to a dairy farm and say, ‘Hey, can you just build another dairy barn?’ But maybe, depending on the current situation, we might be able to find something else you can do,” Ferraretto said.
Ferraretto said weighing the refusal feed will help evaluate what portion of the diet cows are actually consuming.
“Feeding cows and getting them to consume the feed and get the most efficiency and production from that feed is not necessarily an easy task. Everyone involved in your team plays an important role,” Ferraretto said. “The person who is responsible for mixing the feed is just as important as the nutritionist, if not maybe more so. You can have a great, balanced ration, but if it is not prepared and delivered correctly, what good is it?”