It’s no secret that dairy cattle produce milk more efficiently when fed a TMR. A properly balanced ration – one that meets the nutritional requirements of the cattle group without sacrificing particle size and quality – will provide optimal rumen function and prevent the sorting of feed.
Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy Science at Penn State University and co-inventor of the Penn State Particle Separator (“Shaker Box”), is an expert in the field of dairy nutrition, dairy forages, and diet particle size. Heinrichs offers the following tips for optimizing your TMR feeding program:
- A GOOD TMR BEGINS WITH PROPER HARVESTING. Ensure forages are harvested at the appropriate stage of maturity and are chopped to proper length before ensiling. Ideal forage length for most particles is between 3/8 and 3/4 inches.
Failure to adhere to proper harvesting and chopping techniques can lead to lower quality forages, sorting of feed ingredients, and wasted feed. Cows that don’t get the proper nutrition will not produce milk as efficiently, and may be prone to metabolic issues, including subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA).
- TEST YOUR FORAGES – OFTEN! Forage quality and nutrient content can vary for any number of reasons. As such, it is imperative to formulate your ration based on your actual protein, fiber, and mineral contents, rather than estimates or previous forage analyses.
It is recommended that rations be developed based on the average of two or more forage sample analyses. Forages should be resample anytime a change in forage or cattle eating behavior is noticeable.
- ACCURATE WEIGHING AND THOROUGH MIXING. Not all mixers are the same! Be sure to ask for a mixer demonstration to find the best TMR mixer for your operation and ration ingredients. To see the Proven Performance of a Patz Vertical Mixer firsthand, visit our YouTube channel or contact your local Patz Mixer Dealer to arrange an on-farm demo.
Ensure your TMR mixer receives regular maintenance as defined by manufacturer’s instructions manual. Also be sure to check that the scale system is accurate.
- GROUP ANIMALS APPROPRIATELY. Since cattle will have different nutritional requirements throughout their lives, it is important to offer a different rations to meet their needs. This is done through the creation of feed groups.
While the number of animal groups on a dairy will vary based on herd size, barn layout, and cattle social order, the following seven groups are recommended (if resources allow): one group each for high, medium, and low producing cows; far-off and close-up dry cows; and pre-breeding and post-breeding heifers.
- MAXIMIZE FEED INTAKE & MONITOR REFUSALS. In order to maximize feed intake and increase milk production, dairy cattle must have unlimited access to feed for at least 20 hours per day. It is recommended that dairy producers offer more feed that the cow is expected consume – this extra feed ensures that access is truly unlimited.
With feed costs making up more than half of a dairy’s expenses, it is vital that this extra, leftover feed – the refusals – are minimized. Ideally, feed refusals should not exceed 3-4%.
- Hall, Marvin, and Virginia Ishler. “Forage Quality Testing: Why, How, and Where.” Penn State University.
- Heinrichs, Jud. “Do you know why you’re feeding a TMR?” Dairy Herd Management.
- Heinrichs, Jud. “Managing feed refusals is a balance between providing enough to ensure that each cow has access to all the feed she wants and minizing waste.” AgWeb.