Cows crave consistency, and it’s imperative that we provide them with a consistent ration, using clean feed mixed properly and delivered at the same time every day. A key component of accomplishing this goal is feed hygiene, and a central focus of feed hygiene is reducing the levels of pathogens that can enter the cow and disrupt rumen function and hindgut health.

Saylor ben
Technical Services Manager / Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production

A large portion of the pathogens found in a cow’s gastrointestinal tract come from the total mixed ration (TMR). These bad actors can include:

  1. Clostridia, salmonella and E. coli – These pathogens can be found anywhere in a cow’s environment, including where feed is stored, handled and mixed.
  2. Yeasts and molds – If spoilage occurs, these can end up in the TMR.
  3. Mycotoxins – Often prevalent in feeds and can disrupt cow health and performance.

A feed hygiene primer

Several valuable strategies exist that allow producers to either limit a cow’s exposure to pathogens and toxins or control the levels of pathogens and toxins that end up in the gastrointestinal tract.

Contamination of clean feed can occur during silage feedout, feed mixing and delivery. Here are 10 easy steps to help minimize feed contamination on-farm:

  1. Increase silage feedout rate and immediately feed defaced silage.
  2. Feed high-moisture byproducts quickly, emptying bays before restocking.
  3. Keep feed alleys free of debris, scraping at least once daily.
  4. Clean feedbunks, especially directly under headlocks.
  5. Keep waterers clean and clear.
  6. Feed refusals as soon as possible. Mix batches containing refusals last.
  7. Thoroughly clean the TMR mixer once per month.
  8. Clean pushup blades monthly.
  9. Clean tires and buckets of all feed payloaders and skid loaders. Avoid handling feed with buckets that have moved manure or dirt.
  10. Clear debris and spoiled silage off silage pads and feed areas.

Note that several points listed above focus on keeping the feeding area and feeding equipment clean. This is a critical issue and important to help avoid contamination of clean rations with spoiled feed, dirt or manure. It is also important to keep excess feed off of feed mixing equipment to avoid the same contamination issue, but also to improve weight accuracy when mixing ingredients. While it is not something that needs to be a daily practice, it is good to set aside one day each month to clean feed storage, feed pads and feeding equipment.


Using a power washer to clean is a good investment. Also, while using cold water will suffice, investing in a unit that can use hot water or steam is a good step up. The hot water or steam will improve the efficiency of the cleaning process and potentially reduce pathogen loads.

Remember also that this cleaning process uses a significant amount of water that can potentially reach feed ingredients. When you are done cleaning, make sure to clean up and discard any wet feed to avoid future spoilage and contamination.

Mixer maintenance

The benefits of following these feed hygiene protocols can be wasted if the TMR mixer used to process and deliver the feed is not functioning properly. When the TMR mixer is working as it should, cows receive a consistent ration at a regular time every day, which leads to greater resilience and consistent performance in the milking herd.

If you take care of your TMR mixer, it is more likely that the consistency you have come to appreciate will be maintained throughout the year.

  • Weekly maintenance: There are maintenance protocols that can be implemented each week to keep the mixer running at peak performance.
    1. Grease: Regular grease points on a mixer include universal joints, driveline bearings and door guides and linkages. Check lines and fittings for leaks.
    2. Tires: Check tire pressure and look for signs of wear.
  • Monthly maintenance:
    1. Augers, paddles and hoppers: Check for wear, including thin or bent auger flighting, thinning or holes in hoppers and the rounding of knives and cleanout elements.
    2. Chains: Clean dirt or grease from chains and check sprockets for wear or signs that the chain is not riding properly on the sprocket.
    3. Gearboxes: Check oil levels and change gearbox lube if the service interval is due.
    4. Scales: Check the scale indicator and wire connection to make sure they are working. Clear the weight cells from any buildup.

Inside the cow

Despite your best efforts, pathogens and toxins inevitably enter the cow. Bacillus technology can inhibit clostridial populations in the gastrointestinal tract and improve hindgut integrity, while refined functional carbohydrates (RFCs) can prepare the cow’s gut and immune system to offset mycotoxin and other pathogen challenges.

Limiting a dairy herd’s exposure to pathogens and toxins is critically important to achieving consistent productivity and profitability. Taking the necessary steps to improve feed hygiene on-farm, creating a consistent ration with a clean and well-maintained TMR mixer and including products that can improve gut health and cow performance are essential for improving the overall health and resilience of the dairy cow.