Feb. 1 2019 03:00 PM

    What we feed cows is important, but how we feed them is equally critical.

    I’m all for a nice sit-down dinner. Shoot, I’m all for most types of dinners. I like casual restaurants, the occasional dive bar, and family meals packed around a too small table and handmade dishes.

    That being said, one of my favorite ways to eat is by myself with my homemade food spread across a coffee table in front of my TV. Judge me if you will, but that’s the environment that I need sometimes.

    In a lot of ways, cows are similar. Yes, we formulate carefully determined meals for them, but we also determine when and how they eat. Some cows don’t care what the eating environment is, just as long as there’s food in front of them (we’re talking about dominant cows here). Others are acutely aware of the animals, fences, and so forth surrounding them (subordinate cows).

    Particularly for subordinate cows, we should be mindful of how we set the environment. That will determine how much they eat, how their daily time budgets are managed, and how they produce and reproduce.

    A variety of research supports the importance of environment on animal behavior and production when it comes to cows’ dinner service. A study completed at the University of British Columbia analyzed bunk space and competition within pens. The researchers provided subordinate cows with two options: low palatable food away from a dominate cow or high palatability feed with a dominant cow 12, 18, 24, or 30 inches away.

    Feeding recommendations tell us that lactating cows should have 24 inches of eating space and fresh cows should have at least 30 inches. What was interesting in the research is that subordinate cows chose to eat alone 40 percent of the time even when they had 24 to 30 inches space from dominant cows.

    Additionally as indicated in a recent Miner Institute Farm Report, cows also react to how that feedbunk is managed. Miner Institute’s Rick Grant recommended feed push-up every half hour for the first two hours after feed delivery. He also recommended feeding twice per day. In both cases, research has shown that cows eat and produce more.

    Also, take a look at what level of refusals are being collected. Grant suggests 3 percent for lactating cows and 6 to 7 percent for fresh cows.

    Take a walk through the barn, and take a moment to observe your cows at dinner. Like a good waiter or waitress, can you see that they are enjoying their meal? Do they have enough space? Are they able to reach their feed?


    Maggie Seiler

    The author is an associate editor. She covers feeding and nutrition, youth activities, and heads up the World Dairy Expo Supplement. Maggie was raised on a 150-cow dairy near Valley Center, Kansas, and graduated from Kansas State University with degrees in agricultural communications and animal sciences.