Feed Refusals – Don’t Leave Money in the Bunk

Feed is money!

Studies show that feed is averaging 64% of operating costs. Feed bunk management is crucial to plan and maintain a steady diet for cattle. It is typical for producers to have a 2-5% refusal rate. Any more than this and the refusals will start impacting your bottom line.

Beef Cattle – Cows will still get to their same finishing size if they are not eating to their full potential. It will just take a longer amount of time to get there with less feed.

Dairy Cattle – Cows not eating to their full potential will be affected negatively in their production. Cows are limited to the amount of time they are able to lactate. They are not able to “make up for lost time” by just milking longer.

There are several factors involved that can determine how well the herd feeds. Water is an important facet of diet. There should always be access to an ample supply of fresh water. Feed should not be limited and should be pushed up frequently so it remains within a cows reach. According to research, bunks should not remain empty for longer than 3 hours a day. Any spoiled feed should be discarded. Feed refusals that are still good quality can be fed to growing heifers or steers and beef cattle.

Environment is also important. Do the cows have enough space to move around? Is it a calming and relaxing atmosphere? Stressed cows may not eat as well as a happy cow. Cows also like to eat together in groups, often with some type of “pecking order”. You want to make sure that the feed going down the line is exactly the same from beginning to end so each cow is getting the proper ration.

How do you do this? One of the best practices is to feed your herd a TMR (total mixed ration). Cows sort through food and eat the “good stuff” first, whatever they find most appealing. Prevent this by having a thoroughly mixed TMR with quality (ex. Not moldy, spoiled) ingredients. The mixed balance of ingredients will be blended together and make sorting difficult for animals. They will be able to eat a nutritious diet, with forage cut to a size that is big enough to stimulate the rumen, but small enough to be mixed easily.

Ask your local dealer how to “Feed Your Potential” with Patz!


Grant, Rick. “Creating the Perfect Dining Experience: Inegrating Cow Behavior, Housing, and Feedbunk Management.”

Schroeder, J.W., “Dairy Focus: Managing Feed Refusals.” NDSU News

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