Benefits of target feeding using out-of-parlour feeders

Milk prices and input costs are both grumbling problems in the dairy industry at present, but how much change will lobbying and complaining actually have on end margins?

While the answer to the above question is uncertain, with both areas influenced by market demands outside of an individual’s control, there are certain actions farmers can take to ensure they get the most from their milk cheque.

And with energy feed prices unlikely to fall back dramatically from current prices, farmers will have to become more focused on controlling costs and become more efficient if they are to survive, according to NWF sales development manager, Mike Phillips.

“With margins so small and milk prices low, farmers have got to improve efficiency, and one way they can do this is by target feeding specific cows,” he says.

Working with husband and wife team Neil and Bernie Crayston, Upper Farm, Staffordshire, Mr Phillips has helped the couple save feed costs and improve efficiency by target feeding their 100 cows.

They used to feed a full total mixed ration (TMR) with concentrates fed in-parlour, but when they invested in a new parlour they decided not to add in-parlour feeders.

“When we were feeding full TMR, all lactating cows were on the same ration. This meant some cows were being overfed and others underfed – we were feeding up to 12kg of blend to everything,” explains Mr Crayston.

One ration doesn’t suit all

And by not targeting the right feed to the right cow, Mr and Mrs Crayston were not only losing milk yield, they were also getting more cases of displaced abomasums as a result of cows becoming too fat at the tail-end of lactation.

“It was a vicious cycle,” says Mrs Crayston. “Cows would be too fat at drying off. This then increased the number of cases of displaced abomasums around calving, which not only influenced milk yield, but also the ability for that cow to get back in calf.”

It was for this reason the Crayston’s decided to look at target feeding cows by installing four out-of-parlour feeders at a cost of £18,000.

Target feeding using out-of-parlour feeders

Since installing the out-of-parlour feeders, the supply of blend going in to the TMR has dropped from 12kg to 6kg and topped with grass and maize silage to give maintenance +25 litres (M+). Anything yielding above 25 litres then receives 0.45kg/litre in the out-of-parlour feeders.

“We have taken 6kg of feed off the whole herd and directed it to the cows that need it,” she says. Cows at the tail end of lactation now receive a lower M+ level so they don’t put on fat.

Fresh cows are also introduced more steadily to the lactation ration, adds Mr Crayston.

“When cows first calved they were on a knife edge as they went straight on to a milking ration and it was just too strong for them. Since building the ration up over a three-week period from 3kg a day up to a maximum of 7kg a day at peak lactation, the cows are healthier after calving and settle down a lot quicker, coming to a better peak yield as well,” he says.

The cows are also not losing weight at the start of lactation and the average yield is beginning to increase from 9500 litres back to 10,500 litres, but from less feed.

The out-of-parlour feeders not only supply a cow-specific diet, they also deliver the feed little and often, which is good for rumen health, says Mr Phillips.

“Delivering small amounts of food little and often helps keep the rumen stable. This is compared to in parlour feeders where concentrates are delivered in larger quantities, which can cause a larger pH drop in the rumen.”

By target feeding cows, the Crayston’s believe they are saving about 6t of feed a month, which equates to a saving of £1200 a month. And despite feed costs increasing over the last year, feed costs for every litre of milk produced have actually been cut by 1p/litre from 8.13p to 7.32p.

But they admit out-of-parlour feeders wouldn’t work for every farming system.

“If you had a large herd with lots of different groups it may be quite difficult to use them, but because we only have 100 cows in one group it works really well,” says Mr Crayston.

Financial and production benefits from target feeding cows through out of parlour feeders


January 2011

January 2010

Milk yield/day (litre)



Concentrate use a litre (kg)



Average price a tonne (£)



Concentrate cost a litre (p)



Target feeding using in parlour feeders

But out-of-parlour feeders are not the only method for targeting specific diets to different cows.

In-parlour feeders have also helped dairy farmer Rob Slater, Lion farm, Leigh, Staffordshire increase milk yield without increasing feed costs.

Mr Slater had also been feeding a “one diet fits all” TMR to his 180-cow herd and was driving his cows on a dry matter intake basis. It meant the low-yielding cows were eating as much corn as the highs – so overfeeding cows that didn’t need it.

He says he wasn’t getting the milk yield and cows were getting fat. “Acidosis and displaced abomasums were also a problem and trying to keep condition on cows in early lactation was also an issue,” he says.

And with feed costs rising and milk yield averaging 8500 litres – less than Mr Slater wanted – he decided to turn on the in-parlour feeders that had been switched off for the past 10 years.

He then worked out what the low- and high-yielders required and dropped the diet from M+35l to M+28l.

All lactating cows now receive 1kg of concentrates and then 0.45kg for every litre of milk produced over 28l – with a limit of 7kg of concentrate a cow.

“Offering cows any more than 7kg is like offering too many chocolate bars to them, they also can’t physically eat any more than 4kg during a milking anyway,” Mr Slater explains.

By feeding in the parlour Mr Slater has also speeded up milking by 30 minutes a day. “This equates to a saving of 15 days a years,” he says.

And just by targeting the diet, Mr Slater says he has not only cut the feed rate by 0.12kg a cow a day, but he is now generating one litre a cow a day more or a 10% increase in milk yield by targeting feeding specific cows.

Despite concentrate prices increasing, Mr Slater has been able to keep his feeds costs the same while at the same time increase milk yield. “We are now producing 10,000 litre a month with 156 cows. At a milk price of 26.3p/litre this equates to £2630 a month extra money in the pocket despite input costs increasing,” he says.

Mr Slater has also been experimenting with the way the diet is presented and by chopping the diet correctly, and using a Penn State separator to determine the correct mix, he has also added an extra two litres a cow/day on to the amount of milk produced.

“On this farm we only have 180 acres of land for growing forage, with only 60 acres available for grazing. This means we are reliant on bought-in concentrates so have to make the most of both the forage and the concentrates we are feeding.”

Out-of-parlour feeders 

• Reduced displaced abomasums

• Reduced concentrates by 6kg a cow a day

• Diet built up slowly from 3kg to 7kg a cow a day

• Saving 6t feed a month

• Feed saving £1200 a month

• Reduced feed by 1p/litre

• Less fat cows at drying off

In-parlour feeders:

• Reduced acidosis and displaced abomasums

• Increased milk yield per month by 10,000 litres from less feed (increase milk yield by up to 10%)

• Cut feed rate by 0.12kg a cow a day

• Kept feed costs the same despite input costs rising

• Extra milk yield equates to £2630 extra money in pocket