It is that time of year again, winter routines are back. Routines not only describe the list of jobs to do every day, but also get to the key aspect of managing cows with consistency. Cows thrive under orderly management, and ensuring everyone involved in the job of looking after your cows knows exactly how their tasks should be completed is the important first step of managing.

Nutritional management is a key part of this. Science shows rumen function relies on stable cow intakes arising from stable feed management. When cows know the routine their feeding is controlled ‘little and often’ which allows good rumen function. Good rumen function  is the reason that yield and milk solids are higher in stable feeding situations. In contrast variability in feeding drives variability of feed intakes, the diet eaten and size of meals. These factors reduce rumen health and so cow production. So to begin with ask yourself the question,

What is the largest factor leading to variability in feeding management on your farm?

Some variables to look to improve

Forage Dry Matter  

One large variability is dry matter in the forages and this is something which is very apparent in our area of the country where a night’s rain can reduce dry matter by up to 5%. If you continue feeding the same amount of forage on a fresh weight basis it will also result in less dry matter in total being fed which will result in cows being under fed and running out of feed before next feeding time. The reduced forage DM will also reduce the fibre content of the diet and increases the starch, sugar and protein of the diet. When forage gets drier the opposite happens – too much dry matter is fed so feed is left over (often wasted), and the diet is diluted.

Silage analysis will provide a dry matter but generally by the time they are received back the dry matter has changed or that area of the clamp has been eaten.

Nutritionists will formulate generally on a dry matter basis and then print reports on an as-fed basis.

One way of reducing this variable is drying and weighing forages on farm then adjusting the ration accordingly. This can be a few times per week which will make a big difference to consistency of feed amount, targeting just the right amount left over each day. Food dehydrators are one easily available way to do this, ask us if you’d like help setting this up.


Variability of Feed Management Leads to Variability of Results. By Fiona Berry 1

Loading and mixing feeds

Another cause of variability is the tractor driver feeding the cows. If the feeding is less accurately weighed or mixing time increased/decreased from the optimum, variations in quality and quantity of milk can be seen. The time cows are fed is really important and should be the same every day. Wagon filling order, and processing time should be set and so the same across all users.

If many ingredients are being used it may be more accurate to make a premix of the concentrates rather than adding lots of straights and small quantities. Often blends are purchased by farms seeking accuracy and reduced waste.

Checking the physical form of the diet links into the above, is the diet consistent across the whole feed fence? Are cows sorting the mix? If so what is the chop length of the mix? Reducing chop length of long forage pieces reduces cows sorting rations.

Storage management

As well as changes to dry matter, there are other considerations at the silage clamp face that should be considered such as spoilage on the floor which is ending up in the mix. Often that reluctance to dump a little spoiled silage can cost in cow performance – feeding spoiled silage can lead to more loss that not feeding it. Better still stop it happening.

If there is heating and energy loss, this variability will affect intake. Reasons to plan on better silage making, consolidation and clamp management next year. Moulds on silage, or any feeds are not good for butterfats.

Variability in forage quality

Some variability of forage quality will be determined on available clamps and as clamps run out new forages are introduced. The introduction of new forages should be gradual, and clamps should be analysed prior to feeding to plan any changes needed. If cuts of silage can be layered in a clamp this then allows the same mix of forages to be fed throughout the year and will eliminate the risk of poor forage being the sole forage.

Things that can be changed this week – pick one thing to improve

Hopefully we’ve reminded you of the importance of establishing routine for the winter period. Taking some time out of the business this week to improve one aspect will benefit all winter.

Let us know if we could help with forage, mixing or clamp management