Cows are creatures of habit, and as such, they are prone to skipping meals if food is not available when they visit the bunk.
Video evidence has shown that if a cow returns from milking to an empty bunk, it will move on to find a stall and skip an important opportunity for dry matter intake, which drives milk production. For that reason, Penn State’s John Tyson recently reminded producers of the importance of having feed pushed up as groups of cows return from the milking parlor.
“The largest two factors driving cows to the bunk are delivery of fresh feed and milking,” he said in a recent Penn State Dairy Digest article. “With this in mind, design a feed management schedule that corresponds to the milking schedule.”
Particularly, Tyson suggested a feed delivery or push-up within 90 minutes of the cows returning to the barn. For many farms, this will require a shift of bunk management behavior. Instead of feed delivery or push-up of all groups at once, Tyson recommended handling each group as an individual unit.
“While it may be easier to schedule feed push-ups as a whole farm event, the truth is that we manage and move animals by groups,” he explained. “Adding the push-up responsibility to the person that is moving cows to the parlor and grooming stalls may be one way to ensure that feed will be within reach as the cows return.”
Another factor to consider is how long feed remains in front of the cows following delivery or push-up. As they eat, cows sort and push feeds around. For less dominate cows, the ration may be out of reach or nutrient limiting. Be attentive to the bunk and push up to provide cows with their best chance to consume the nutrients needed to produce high quantities of milk.