Tips to Improve Efficiency of Feed Preparation and Shrink on the Dairy

Robb D. Wock, DPC – Purina Animal Nutrition LLC (507) 696-6351

As Dairy managers you understand that there are many ways to reduce variation & shrink. But to do so you must be willing to evaluate everything from where you store feed to the actual preparation process itself … which includes ingredient variation, mixing & delivery times, mixing order, servicing or upkeep of equipment, and total utilization of labor and resources.  In the end this will help insure that cattle get the right and consistent amount of nutrients every day, improving the net return to your operation. 

Some key areas to concentrate on for reducing variation are in your forages, utilizing premixes and the TMR mixing process.  For instance we know that “Facing” the silage bunker into a windrow and then pushing and lifting the windrow so that it becomes a well-blended pile makes it more uniform in moisture & nutrients.  In fact many dairies will even blend Alfalfa bales into on big pile inside a commodity shed.  There is no doubt that forages contribute tremendously to mixing variation since they make up over 50% of the diet.  So this can be a huge step in reducing variation.

Another area of concentration that can reduce variation is the loading & mixing process.  One of our sales support companies that we have close relationship with, Diamond V Mills, has tested thousands of loads of TMR on dairies across the U.S. and abroad.  They developed a “coefficient of variation” (CV) that allows us to evaluate the average percent of material on the middle & bottom screens of the Penn-State-Shaker-Box, using 10 samples of TMR per load.  The TMR is consistent when we see a CV of 3% or less.  By doing this they identified 9 factors of variation in the TMR mixing process:

  1. Worn mixer wagons
  2. Mix time after the last added ingredient
  3. Ingredient loading order
  4. Hay processing
  5. Over-filling the TMR wagon
  6. TMR wagon/mixer not level
  7. Loading position on the mixer box
  8. Liquid distribution
  9. Mixer auger speed

Evidence has been gained that shows that when the CV changed from 1.8% to 5% in a TMR, energy corrected milk dropped 12 lbs or 3.75 lbs of ECM per one point increase in CV!! As TMR mix quality improved back to 1.8% with proper auger speed, ECM jumped to previous levels in just a few days.

Mixing & delivery times also play a big role in improving feeding efficiency.  We like to see loads of TMR fully-loaded within 15 minutes or less.  We also like to see loads of TMR delivered and the mixer box returned to the feed center within 15 minutes, so that the total turn-around time per load is 30 minutes or less.  This way the feeding team can keep up with most milking schedules and it allows pens of cows to be fed at the same time very day. 

Here are some other ways to reduce loading & mixing times of TMR’s:

  1. Design an on-farm premix
  2. Process the HAY or STRAW ahead of time
  3. Add your liquid (if you have one) and/or the HAY and STRAW to the on-farm premix
  4. Position the mixer box out of the wind
  5. Position the mixer box so the loader can make short & rapid turns.

In today’s world TMR’s can have 10 or more ingredients, and each one can have a loading error of 30 lbs or more.  Plus it takes time to load every ingredient.  This is where the on-farm premix comes into play.  When designing an on-farm premix you will usually blend all the ingredients used in the TMR except for Corn Silage, Haylage or Hay sources.  However the premix should only be mixed the day before after all pens have been fed for that day.  If you are adding “water” you should only make the premix hours before feeding to avoid excessive heating & spoilage.

If you can try to avoid processing large bales of hay or straw in vertical mixer wagons.  This takes a lot of time and fuel, and often it is not processed the same from load to load.  Grinding the hay or straw ahead of time speeds up loading time & reduces variations.

When positioning mixer wagons out of the wind you should also keep in mind your traffic pattern.  Try to make shorter runs to the Corn Silage or Haylage pile!  Also make sure the loader is not making big wide turns that will spill more feed. On many farms there is an effort to place the Corn Silage or Haylage in close proximity to the on-farm premix so that ingredients can all be loaded very rapidly, without a lot of effort, turning or driving time. In fact some dairies load twin-auger boxes in less than 10 minutes & triple auger boxes in less than 20 minutes!  Saving time in this fashion, along with the reduction in variation, should be the goal of every farm.

While this is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of tips, it can be very helpful information that spurs some additional thought about how you can improve efficiencies on your farm.  I’m sure you can probably think of other areas that may be a bottleneck that it may even make more sense to investigate.  If employment of even just a couple of these factors helps to improve efficiency it will be well worth your time & efforts. Certainly if either I or anyone else on the All-American Feed Staff can be of assistance in these areas please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We work very closely with Diamond V and may be able to get you all set up with a TMR-audit that is instructed on their behalf.  We appreciate all your business and look forward to a long-standing relationship with you in the future.

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