The equipment that mixes the cows' ration plays an integral role in the day-to-day operation of the farm - contributing significantly to a farms' profitability. If the equipment is not managed and maintained on a regular basis, variation in the daily ration presented to the cows may occur.
"This potential for variation in the ration, caused by the mixing equipment, can impact cow performance," says Dr. Vic Wilkerson, dairy nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition, based in Oregon. "Paying closer attention to the equipment doing the mixing and what's happening during the mixing process can help dairy producers maximize their feeding programs."
Following are four tips to help mix and feed a consistent ration:
1. Evaluate uniformity of mix
Evaluating particle size distribution per animal group using the Penn State Shaker box is one way to assure mixing uniformity. "Take samples at several points across the width of the feed bunk during load out or feed out," Wilkerson advises. "Do the results match the guidelines for the animal group approaching the feed bunk?"
Wilkerson notes that it may also be helpful to evaluate the feed at the feed bunk multiple times between feedings to determine the degree of particle or ingredient sorting by the animals. "Consider testing a sample at load-out and again every two to three hours until the next load is delivered," he says. "The visual appraisal of these sequential samples may tell the story of sorting, faulty equipment, improper mixing time or inappropriate moisture level."
The goal should be to mix the same ingredients in an alike manner for each animal group, each feeding. Information gathering is necessary to determine the success of this goal.
2. Look for dead spots
Areas inside the mixer where feed doesn't get mixed are considered dead spots and can be a problem because they prevent ingredients from mixing properly.
Safely observe the mixer, while it's mixing, to help determine if there are dead spots within the mixer. Dead spots can occur when the mixer is not on a level surface or if the door on the mixer is worn out.
3. Monitor feed volume and mixing time
"Improper mixing occurs when too much feed is added to the load or if the feeding equipment isn't sized for the operation," says Wilkerson, noting that, in addition to the resulting inconsistent mix of feed presented to the cow, ingredients will likely be lost over the top of the equipment while it's mixing.
If the length of time a load is mixed is an issue, consider adding a timer in the mixing unit so all operators mix the same per load by animal group, notes Wilkerson.
4. Establish a maintenance plan
A maintenance plan should be established to check the mixing unit for wear and tear on the blades, knives, kicker plates, discharger, doors, and load cells. "If you do not know the date your mixer's knives were last inspected it might be time to replace them," says Wilkerson.
"Now is a good time to evaluate your feeding system before inclement weather arrives," he adds. "Besides, having the necessary parts and equipment ready for a scheduled mixing, routine maintenance can help avoid delays in feeding and keep rations consistent."
For more information on maintaining a consistent ration, contact Dr. Vic Wilkerson at (503) 314-0387 or email: VAWilkerson@landolakes.com.
For additional information on dairy nutrition and management, sign-up to receive the monthly HerdSmart E-Newsletter; a free online tool to improve operational efficiency by visiting: www.bit.ly/ManagementTips.
Purina Animal Nutrition LLC (www.purinamills.com) is a national organization serving producers, animal owners and their families through more than 4,700 local cooperatives, independent dealers and other large retailers across the United States. Driven by an uncompromising commitment to animal excellence, Purina Animal Nutrition is an industry innovator, offering America's leading brands of complete feeds, supplements, premixes, ingredients and specialty technologies for the livestock and lifestyle animal markets. Headquartered in Shoreview, Minn., Purina Animal Nutrition LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, Inc.