Every year in the US, feed left in the bunk costs dairy producers $2 billion. That’s about eight percent of all the feed placed in front of dairy cows, says J. W. Schroeder.
The North Dakota State Extension Dairy Specialist told a packed presentation room last month at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, that managing feed at the bunk really is a balancing act between waste and the cost of doing business. He talked with Real Agriculture and shared a number of strategies producers can employ to help reduce feed loss and increase profitability.
The process starts with the ability to assess how much feed cows are wasting. It really comes down to the old adage: “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” says Schroeder. Producers also have to ensure they’re doing an excellent job mixing their feed to reduce variability. This is especially true of wet forages such as corn silage and alfalfa haylage. “They both spoil and if they are not put up properly, they are not as desirable to cattle.” (continued below)
The social aspect of feeding is also a key consideration. There needs to be enough bunk space to ensure younger, smaller cows don’t feel intimidated around the bunk. “They need to get their share of high-quality ration and not just feed that’s been picked over by other cows,” says Schroeder.
Another factor to assess is delivery of feed at different times of the day. Additional feedings do pose labour challenges, but Schroeder believes feeding at least twice a day does improve the quality of the ration available to the cow and increase dry matter intake.
One of the big challenges in making recommendations to reduce feed waste is the vast difference between dairy operations. Whether producers are milking cows two or three times a day, or feeding significant amounts of wet forages or long hay, are two other factors to be considered.
From the size of operations to feed types and management systems, Schroeder says it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. He encourages producers to take a hard look at the nutritional needs of their cows throughout the lactation and explore a range of ideas to develop the most efficient feeding system for their operation.