Feed costs are the greatest expense on a dairy. With feed prices moving higher, margins will become even tighter, making it difficult to build equity. A choice looms: Cut back/remove feed ingredients from the ration or forge ahead and maintain current ingredient levels. Either way, revisiting feed management pays off. If feed has been forward contracted for a lesser price or is already stored in the bunker, it still must be closely managed.
With either option, where do you start when it comes to getting the most out of your feed? Walk out to the commodity barn on a windy day. Watch what is happening. How much feed is blowing away as the feeder is loading feed into the mixer?
Or as the wind swirls through the bays, which bays lose feed? Small particles are very easily moved even with minor wind gusts, causing feed loss or “shrink.” Pelleting (making a premix with dry, small particle feeds) and adding moisture may combat losses to wind.
Next, how do you monitor feed inventory? Adopt available software programs that track the amount of feed used in making the total mixed ration. In addition to monitoring “shrink,” it even calculates the accuracy with which each ingredient is added to every load.
In some cases, the savings in reduced feed waste pays for the software in a few years. Consider giving incentives to employees with the greatest accuracy in mixing feed.
Now take a look at silage piles. View the silage face and surrounding areas. Make note of face spoilage, whether fluid (leachate) exits the pile and damage to the silage covering.
Correcting spoilage and leachate issues require changes on the front end of storage. Both may be examples of poor packing or sizing the pile too large for the daily feedout rate.
Nutrient leaching results from chopping the forage at a low dry matter. Repair damage to the silage covering immediately to prevent extended silage exposure to oxygen, which restarts fermentation and increases dry matter losses.
Recheck silage chop length and the extent of kernel processing when viewing the silage. Should either differ from expectation, make note. Although it’s too late for the current crop, plan corrective actions for the next silage harvested.
Reducing shrink through improved feed management also helps maintain feed quality. Increased vigilance pays off in recognizing losses that may be occurring through spoilage, allowing for action to be taken to remedy the situation.
As quality goes up, the benefits to the animals consuming the feed increase since nutrient availability improves.
Involve multiple individuals to get the most out of your feed by decreasing shrink and maintaining quality. Instruct feeders to conduct daily inspections of feed to monitor quality and report issues.
Ask your nutritionist to include a walk-through of the commodity areas to provide additional scrutiny during their regular visit. Continued attention to feed management detail provides benefits in the long term by reducing feed costs and maintaining feed quality.
Following the procedures outlined previously can help you get the most out of your feed. PD
Lager is a nutritionist and extension associate with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service .
—Excerpts from Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas Dairy Matters Newsletter, Vol. 7, Fall 2011
- Extension Associate
- Texas AgriLife Extension Service
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