Routine ration monitoring will enable producers to pinpoint when rations aren’t meeting their original targets.
Cows are creatures of habit – they don’t like change. The main parameter for possible inconsistencies, according to Warwick Bastard of Model Nutrition, lies in the ration.
“Rations should be best cost and not least cost,” believes Mr Bastard. The ration is the biggest part of management, but is often neglected and rushed in place of other management tasks, he told herdsmen and nutritionists at last week’s Large Herds Seminar.
“When cows have a consistent intake then yields will, in turn, be more consistent. Any variation, therefore, needs to be eliminated, resulting in a healthier rumen and decreased incidence of problems such as acidosis,” he added. Although the science of nutrition is increasing, the art of feeding as a management task is often given less prominence due to stretched staffing and tighter budgets.
One of the first steps is to see what is happening in the feed bunker. “Monitor the TMR once it has been fed, how much sorting is taking place and, if this is the case, measure what is left to assess why this is happening.”
Correctly formulated rations will result in little or no sorting. And so, when there are major holes in the TMR, monitoring weighbacks regularly, particularly particle size, will result in a more suitable ration being formulated. “General management observations, such as dung consistency, examining milk quality and general signs of rumen upset can all indicate an inconsistent ration.”
Sampling rations should become routine, Mr Bastard advised. “The worst sampling technique, taking a top of the bunk grab sample, is often only used for convenience. To get a representative sample, lay at least four large, unopened rubbish bags or plastic sheets crossways across the feed passage randomly the length of the delivery of feed from one wagon. Rations should be administered normally, with care taken that chutes pass over the plastic sheets.
“Collect each sheet, record the location in the passage and reduce sample size to make it more manageable, about 1kg. Place these smaller samples in clean, numbered plastic bags and seal. When rations contain high moisture or wet ingredients, they should be refrigerated as soon as possible. In a ration with five ingredients, there are 15 reasons for a ration to be different from the target in terms of ME, NDF and CP, so there is a high chance that things will need adjusting.”
To ensure uniformity between batches, fill order, mixing time, particle size reduction and understanding the material flow through the mixer are all key factors to consider, he added.