Accurate Ration Prep Reduces Waste, Saves $$

Carl Hunter, Sunnyhill Acres
Northfield, MN

“They like the ration and can’t sort through it. I don’t have to clean the bunks. The condition on the cattle is perfect on a cheaper ration, and I don’t have waste.”

These statements were made by Carl Hunter, heifer raiser, after purchasing his Patz Model 1100 Vertical Mixer. Like many in the ag industry, Carl was frustrated with the high refusal rate and feed waste he had been experiencing with his previous feeding method. So, after trying various brands of mixers, he chose Patz and has seen great results.

Patz Vertical Mixers deliver a consistent, thorough Total Mixed Ration that cows love. Plus, they provide superior cleanout, further reducing waste. Since feeding with his Patz, Carl reports improved herd health, less refusals, and decreased feed costs.
As Carl knows, feeding strategy plays an important role in determining intakes and refusals. With high feed costs, it is no surprise that refusal and waste are hot topics among producers. According to Bill Stone, D.V.M., each dry matter percentage point of refusals costs approximately $20.00 per cow annually.

In a recent issue of Hoard’s Dairyman, Stone presents steps that producers can take to increase intakes and decrease refusals in their operation. He also suggests more economical ways to handle refusals than just adding them to the manure pile.

As Stone emphasizes, accurate ration preparation plays a large role in stabilizing intakes and reducing refusals. To determine what defines “accurate ration preparation,” he compares feeding strategies for two groups of cows. The first group had intakes and refusals averaging 57 pounds and 3 %, respectively, while the second averaged 57 pounds and 0.5%. Why the disparity in refusal rates? It all seems to come down to ration preparation.


The first dairy removed forages from the bunker with a defacer
and pushed them into a pile prior to feeding. The second dairy removed the forages at the beginning of the day, mixed them briefly in a mixer truck, and then transported the feed to a location near the commodity shed. In addition to providing better load preparation, the second procedure produced a consistent ration from loader bucket to loader bucket.

Taking these dairies and a beef research trial into account, Stone reports that planning for a relatively high rate of refusal so that cows won’t ever run out of feed is not necessarily the best feeding strategy. He states that perceived fluctuations in pen intake are most often due to variations in the feed or feeding method, i.e. forage moisture changes, feed not properly distributed, etc.

Stone’s research led him to compile the following list of habits/routines that support accurate ration preparation:

  • Proper collection of forage samples for analysis.
  • Clear understanding of dry matter concept.
  • Accurate preparation of feed identified as beneficial to operation.
  • Goal for refusal percentages and set program for feeding adjustments based on refusal amount.
  • Plan for handling refusals.
Instead of adding refusals to the manure pile (costing as much as $100/cow/year), he proposes feeding refusals to late-lactation groups. Stone stipulates that refusals must be monitored closely and discarded if they heat, spoil, or are low quality. The refusals from this group should be discarded daily or fed to a “low impact” group (i.e. steers, bred heifers). He notes that refusals should never be fed to pre-fresh or fresh cows. In addition, due to dietary concerns, refusals may not be appropriate for young heifers, older heifers, and dry cows.

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