Everyone in the dairy industry knows the story of the three rations on every dairy. The one the nutritionist leaves, the one the feeder delivers, and the one the cows actually eat. What can be done to ensure that your dairy only has one ration? There are several steps that need to be monitored closely and often to ensure the proposed ration is fed. As in most important aspects of business, someone needs to be responsible for the monitoring program. If no one is accountable, the fact is, it probably won’t get done on a regular basis.

Monitoring dry matter is the first and very important step. A swing of a couple of points one way or another can lead to a totally different ration fed to the cows. Most dairies check dry matters at least weekly. More often is probably better. After a rain dry matters need to be monitored for a couple of days until feeds get back to normal. Don’t forget piles of ground hay or straw that get rained on. We have seen dry matters in these drop up to 10 points for a few days.

The next step is to use the feeding software to evaluate feeder performance. All versions of feed software will give you an error percent on loading. The very best feeders are under 2% error consistently. Goals should be no more than 4 % error. The feeding program should be set up to hlp the feeder achieve these goals. Making commodity premixes to add to TMR’s can help with errors on small ingredient such as minerals and bypass proteins. A side benefit is this will help speed up feeding. Small amount of hay or straw per load can also lead to more errors. Think about putting straw or low inclusion hay amounts in the premix also.

Feed programs do a good job of reporting the pounds of ingredient in a certain order, but don’t guarantee the right commodity was added at the right time. This can easily be monitored also. Take periodic, but frequents TMR samples and have them analyzed for nutrients. Do this with the premix also. That way you will know that not only the right amount was fed, but the right ingredient was fed.

The next critical step to monitor is the mixer. Tons of feeds are put through our mixers every month. The wear on internal parts is inevitable and happens more quickly than most people realize. A lot of dairies change knives on a regular basis, but what about the augurs and liners. Mixers are made to mix perfectly new, but as they wear the mixing action deteriorates. Monthly TMR evaluations are critical. It’s not hard to evaluate the mixing consistency of your mixer. As the mixer is unloading, take 8-10 samples spaced evenly thorough out the unloading process. They can either be sent a lab to compare nutrient values of each sample or shaken through a Penn State Box to compare the percentage on each screen. Using one of these systems and keeping record, you can follow the trends in consistency. When thing start to get out of line, action can be taken.

So dry matters are correct, the feeder puts the correct ingredients in in the correct amount, the mixer mixes the ration perfectly and the feed is delivered to the right pen. Then the very animals you are trying to feed can wreck the whole process by sorting. Sorting can be a big issue, but easily correctable. Most sorting happens either from long forges or rations high in powdery feeds. Evaluate your bunks an hour or two after feeding. If long hay or straw is being sorted, consider grinding; add more to the premix or knives may be the issue. If the ration is dry, add water or some liquid feeds. Rations need to be around 50% Dry Matter to eliminate the ability of the cows to sort.

Implementing a rigorous monitoring system, that includes all of these steps will pay big dividends and let you evaluate your nutrition program.