Feed is the single greatest operating expense on dairy farms. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen) to discuss the feeding program, the conversation will turn to how to reduce inefficiencies when feeding and how to better maximize your return on the investment in feed.
By Curtis Harms, D.V.M
Every feeding program on every dairy includes a large number of elements that impact the dairy’s overall production and profitability. Well-formulated, well-prepared total mixed rations (TMR) with the right particle length nutritionally lay the groundwork for a well-fed, well-performing herd. The TMR and feedstuffs directly affect rumen health and function, milk production and milk components. The optimization of rumen performance and day-to-day feeding consistency lay the foundation for herd health and dairy profitability.
1) What is included in a TMR audit ?
A TMR audit helps many dairies identify opportunities to advance their feeding program and increase profitability by doing a better job of feeding. A TMR audit typically focuses on the feeding center and daily feeding activities. Factors that are examined include:
• Proper use of feeding software, a useful tool in monitoring mixing time, travel time, accuracy of ingredient measurements and ingredient order. Feeding software helps feeders feed more consistently.
• How feed is processed in the TMR mixer and the challenges the feeder faces.
• The number of trips and travel times needed to get ingredients. Ideally, trips are minimized as the costs of diesel, tire and equipment wear/tear as well as labor add up.
• How the bunker face, piles and commodity sheds are being managed to minimize shrink and improve consistency. At some dairies, the use of upright bins may limit shrink from wind loss, birds, tire loss, etc. and, in doing so, pay for themselves.
• If defacing and blending forages prior to feeding can create a more consistent ingredient for every pen of cows that day.
• Developing a clear harvest and forage storage plan can contribute to the production of higher quality forages to support higher milk production.
• The planning of equipment maintenance: what needs to be done, by whom and when. Could a written schedule help get things done on time and help avoid tasks being overlooked or forgotten?
• The timing of feed delivery. Fresh feed should be available when cows return from the parlor. Every opportunity to drive optimum dry matter intake promotes profits. Each additional pound of dry matter intake equals 2.5 lbs of milk.
• How is inventory management and communication? Can it be improved? Who is responsible for ordering feed? Key ingredients should always be on hand. Plan ahead to make the diets more consistent.
• How efficiently is labor used: from mixing feed to opening gates to moving cows.
Ask your nutritionist to evaluate your current feeding practices and identify areas for change or improvement. Discuss and prioritize areas to focus on for better feed management.
2) To what degree is teamwork a consideration?
Good communication among team members is invaluable. Protocols and communication systems should be in place and actively used. For instance, how often do your cows run out of feed? What should night milkers do if feed runs out before morning? How is this communicated to the feeder when it happens? Do you have accurate pen numbers for the feeder every day? How often should workers run moistures? What is the plan if forages get wetter today? What is the plan if excessive refusals occur? What happens to refusals? They have value too.
Ask your nutritionist for input and insights on effective teamwork and communications. Discuss what changes might be appropriate and how your dairy could benefit.
3) What other advantages are there to doing a TMR audit?
Another tremendous benefit to the TMR audit is that it holds the whole team accountable. That is important because optimizing feeding practices, rumen performance and consistency every day is a key component in herd health and dairy profitability.
Decisions should be based on sound science and good data, not one person’s perception. We find that on every dairy opportunities exist to improve in specific areas, but these opportunities require time and focus to identify and act on.
Ask for your nutritionist’s help in developing a plan based on your TMR audit, prioritizing the steps to be taken, presenting it to your team and monitoring its implementation.