Making small improvements in feed efficiency by using mixers correctly can yield huge financial benefits from increased cow performance.
Increasing profits by £150 a cow a year may seem an unrealistic target, but by making small improvements in feed efficiency, it is possible, according to David Coleman, President of the International Association of Agricultural Economists.
Better diet formulation and feeding systems can increase milk yields without increasing dry matter intake and impacting on animal health, said Prof Coleman during an online Webinar Session organised by Keenan.
Although he didn’t specify in detail about how feed conversion efficiency could be improved, he showed the potential was there.
“The UK average FCE is about 1.2, but in Scandinavia they are working on a FCE of 1.6,” he said.
Results from more than 1100 Keenan customers during the first year of using a mixer wagon saw a 10% improvement, with FCE improving from an average of 1.17 to 1.29.
“It’s all about getting more milk from less feed and by improving feed conversion efficiencies, this is possible,” said Prof Coleman.
Making the most of your mixer wagon
However, recent research by Frank Wright Trouw Nutrition International revealed 85% of farmers are not making the most of their mixer wagon, with poorly mixed diets impacting on cow performance.
A survey of 105 farmers found only 15% of farmers knew how to mix a ration properly. The other 85% experienced sorting problems, resulting in lower feed intakes and knock on effects on milk quality, fertility and lameness, according to Frank Wright Trouw Nutrition technical director, John Allen.
Speaking to Dairy Update at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show last month, Dr Allen said poorly mixed rations could increase cases of acidosis. “A major concern if rations are not mixed properly is cows sorting the ration, picking out the high starch bits and leaving the fibre section of the ration. This is a major risk factor for acidosis and can have knock on effects on performance,” he said.
The main stumbling blocks appeared to be with the length of time needed to mix the ration, order of loading, capacity of mixer wagons and untrained staff.
“For example, on some farms, cow numbers will increase overtime and this may mean the capacity of the mixer wagon is no longer big enough for the herd size,” he said.
Dr Allen recommends following a step by step plan by regularly servicing the mixer wagon, training all staff to use the mixer wagon, knowing the capacity of the mixer, mixing for at least 10-15 minutes, checking the physical ration following mixing and monitoring cow performance.
Order or loading is also important. “Following the manufacturers instructions for order of loading is important. However, if that fails, including long fibre first to provide a base at the bottom, followed by cereal silage, concentrate feeds and blends, minerals and fats, moist ingredients and lastly grass silage should work,” said Dr Allen.
The ideal ration should be well mixed, be difficult to sort and have a target physical effective fibre of 16% in the total rations. Dr Allen recommended using a Penn State sieve to assess particle size profile.
“Realistically using a Penn State separator you would be looking for 20% large particles, 35% medium particles, 30% short particles and 15% fine material,” he said.
Although acidosis may be one sign of an inconsistent ration, looking at cow dung is also another tell tail signed, warned Dr Allen.
“If you are seeing physical signs either health problems like acidosis or inconsistent dung, it’s important to take appropriate corrective actions. Simple things can make a big difference and if you do the job properly you will get the performance,” he said.
Case Study: Will White
Simple modifications can make a big difference when it comes to mixing rations and for Derbyshire dairy farmer, Will White, the results of such changes soon became evident.
Milking 190 cows at Coney Greave Farm, Belper, Derbyshire, Mr White thought everything was ok with the ration he was feeding. The cows were on a TMR of maize and grass silage, wheat, molasses, rape/soya, sugarbeet pulp and a compound feed and were fed twice a day all year round.
However, when Mr White became involved in a trial carried out by Frank Wright Trouw Nutritional International, evaluating the effect of order of loading and mixing time on mix quality, the results suggested inconsistency in mix quality.
A variation in mix quality can cause serious problems, says Frank Wright’s John Allen. “If mixer wagons are used incorrectly and the physical mix of the ration is incorrect this can significantly impact on cow performance and health, including reduced feed intake, increased rumen acidosis, lower milk production and of poorer quality, reduced fertility and increased lameness.”
After sieving the ration at Coney Greave Farm, the results revealed a big variation in mix quality down the feed fence and from the results, Mr White was advised to change the mix order.
On following the advice, samples taken since have shown a more consistent mix down the feed fence and reduced risk of acidosis. Cows have responded with an increase in dry matter intake of 1.5kg and an increase in yield of a litre a cow. Cows are now averaging 30 litres a day with rolling annual yields of 8900 litres.
Financial gains from improving feed conversion efficency
Feed conversion efficiency
Milk output (litres)
Milk income a cow
Net margin (profit)
Note: Figures based on milk price of 24p/litre and assume no change in dry matter intakes and feed costs.
Feed conversion efficiency is calculated by dividing the amount of milk produced for very cow a day by the amount of dry matter required.