When it comes to managing the feedbunk, who is responsible is not as important as the responsibilities that need to be done. First is the need to start with high-quality, fresh and palatable feed ingredients free from spoilage and mold. Then offer a well-balanced ration that will meet the high- producing dairy cow’s nutritional needs.

Some of the main points that need to be monitored on a regular basis include:

  • Wet feeds should be monitored at least weekly for moisture changes. (Possibly daily for large dairies when feeding forages such as haylage.)
  • Ration dry matter should be between 53 to 58 percent.
  • The TMR should be checked periodically for proper mixing and chop length. A Penn State box can be used for this purpose.
  • Monitor the feed ingredient amounts and deviations from the proposed ration.
  • Monitor the time of day the TMR is being fed for consistency.


Attention needs to be given to the amount of sorting of the TMR. Cows will always sort the ration to some extent. Sorting is the consuming of the grain portion of the TMR and typically leaving the larger particles or forage (mostly dry hay or long corn silage stocks and cobs).

The job is to provide a TMR that will minimize cows from sorting. This can be accomplished by providing a TMR that is mixed well, having proper chop length of forages, and the proper amount of ration moisture.

I recommend feeding about 60 to 65 percent of the forage dry matter as a chopped feed (corn silage and haylage). Feeding a higher amount of chopped forages in relation to dry hay can help to reduce the sorting of the TMR.


Other factors that can affect sorting is the amount of bunk space available per cow, the amount of time the TMR is available to the cow, the number of times the TMR is fed and the number of times the TMR is pushed up to the cows.

Sometimes there is a need to check that the TMR is consistent coming out of the feed box. Compare the feed from the beginning of feedout to the last of the feedout for consistency.


In an ideal world, the quality of the pushout (or the feed that is left in the bunk before the next feeding) should be very similar to the fresh TMR. The reason for this is so that every cow gets the opportunity to consume the ideal TMR any time she visits the feedbunk. If the ration has been sorted and all that is left to eat is the hay stems, corn silage stalks and cobs, the cow’s nutritional requirements will not be met, thus affecting milk production. This may cause reduced dry matter intake, variation in intakes and slug feeding.

The question here is how much feed should be left in the feedbunk before the next feeding? The second question is, “How often do I push out the feedbunks?” I am sure if you ask 10 people this question you could get 10 different answers. There are two pens that I like to see pushed out every day before the new feed is delivered and that is the fresh and close-up cows. The feedbunks for these two groups of cows can be the hardest to read, or to keep from running out or overfeeding the TMR. This is because there are cows constantly moving in and out of these pens and intakes in the close-up will decrease before calving, while the fresh cows’ intakes are increasing daily.

Ideally, I recommend the feedbunks of all lactating cows pushed out daily or every other day before the new TMR is delivered. With that said, I recommend feeding to a tight bunk (2 to 5 percent pushouts as-fed). Under this scenario, the feed needs to be pushed up every three to four hours. This should allow all cows an opportunity to consume fresh TMR throughout the day. Dry matter intakes from day to day are more consistent, making it easier for the feeder or feed manager to read the bunks. If the feedbunks are pushed out every day, the pushouts will be fed to another group of animals, far-off dry cows or pregnant heifers.

What happens when the feedbunks are pushed out three times a week or weekly? The concern here becomes the buildup of sorted material like hay stems, corn stalks and cobs, and foreign material like rocks, frozen chunks of silage, etc. When there is a buildup of this kind of material, and the fresh TMR is fed over the top, there can be a decrease in dry matter intake and increased sorting of the fresh TMR. The other concern is the feed that builds up will heat, spoil and could possibly grow mold. This issue can be worse in the summer months. The pushouts are usually of poor quality and will not be utilized in another ration, but discarded.


Who should be reading the feedbunks each feeding, the feeder or the feed manager? I am not as concerned as to who is doing this job as much as making sure that someone is reading the bunks before each feeding and that the same person does that job consistently. This is a critical job that needs to be done before each feeding. The individual that reads the bunks should be careful not to make too large of an adjustment in the amount of TMR offered. If the amount of TMR adjusted is too large or too small, the dry matter intakes will vary, causing a roller coaster effect. The feeder or feed manager needs to be aware of the number of cows being moved into or out of the pens to make the necessary feed adjustment.

The bottom line when feeding cows is to keep it consistent; feed the same time each day; offer a fresh, palatable TMR; make sure it is mixed properly and check the moisture content of wet feeds often. PD

Jess Argyle