Feed push-ups can increase profitability

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With today’s dairy economics, capturing every pound of marginal milk is essential to profitability. Marginal milk can be defined as the few pounds of increased production that can be gained by adjusting management practices while seeing little or no increase in expenditure.

Pushing up feed is one of the simplest and least-expensive strategies dairy operators can implement. It is also one of the major management factors that explain the difference in milk production among dairy herds. Research conducted by Dr. Alex Bach’s team in the early 2000s found that herds where feed was routinely pushed up produced on average 8 pounds more milk than herds where feed was not pushed up.

The No. 1 benefit of increasing feed push-up frequency is increased dry matter intake. The more cows eat, the more milk they produce, and cows cannot eat what they cannot reach. Push-ups stir the feed and bring fresh feed under the cows’ noses. This allows more submissive cows to have similar ration consistency and improved DMI.

More frequent feed push-ups, and the subsequent increase in meals consumed, also improve rumen health and milk components. Research conducted by Dr. Trevor DeVries, University of Guelph, showed a correlation between the number of meals consumed throughout the day and fat-corrected milk yield. Longer feeding times and slower feeding rates result in a stable rumen environment and decreased risk for subacute ruminal acidosis. Frequent feed push-ups also reduce the risk of slug-feeding, which can lead to digestive challenges.

In addition, more frequent feed push-ups make feed available when cows come back from the parlor, which can increase their standing time and allow teat canals to close, reducing the risk for mastitis. Cows that do not have to reach aggressively for feed have less pressure on the front claws of their feet and necks, which can cause long-term challenges to performance and longevity. The same can be said with feed push-ups in heifer lots, especially if competition at the bunk is tight.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked and biggest opportunities on many farms is to push up feed within the first 1-2 hours following fresh feed delivery. Cows are most competitive at the bunk when fresh feed is delivered. They consume a large meal and move around a sizeable portion of the feed during this time. Thus, a push-up relatively soon after feed delivery is advantageous.

Create a set schedule for feed push-ups throughout the day and, ideally, at night. Scheduling feed push-ups during the overnight hours is an obvious challenge on dairies where labor is not available around the clock. In these cases, make feed push-up the last task of the day and one of the very first tasks the next morning. Automatic feed pushers have been game-changers for many dairies experiencing this labor void overnight.

One of the simpler technologies we can use in observing bunk behavior and feed push-ups is a time-lapse camera, which allows us to observe cows at a distance. The cameras allow us to see cows reaching for feed and challenges with feed distribution across the bunk. Cameras can also be a quick check that push-up schedules are followed at all hours of the day.

Increasing the frequency of feed push-ups can pay dividends on many farms. Work with your feed and management team to develop a workable schedule to allow for quality feed to be in front of cows at all times. Your cows will reward you with improved health and productivity.

Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.

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