Feeding practices have a huge impact on herd health and performance, so the importance of delivering a consistent feeding program is paramount to herd profitability.
Everything involved in a proper feeding program is of equal importance – what (from a nutrition point of view) is delivered, how feed is delivered and when feed is delivered.
The ideal feeding program will provide high quality feed that is consumed in frequent, small meals throughout the day. Good access can be achieved by frequent feed delivery close to milking time with frequent push-ups.
But how do we ensure that these principles are applied?
Measuring changes in cow-group behavior can provide considerable insight into the cow’s perception of the farm’s feeding management quality. Who better to ask than the cows?
Consistent feeding practices will be reflected in consistent cow behavior. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s look at a Midwestern dairy’s group 1 at to get insight into feed delivery timing after morning milking.
‘Group Activity Routine’ graph shows real time activity levels (green line) relative to the two-week average activity levels (gray line) of the pen.
We can see from the elevated activity levels that group 1 is taken to the milking parlor at 5am and returns at approximately 7am, this routine has been consistently maintained by the dairy’s staff over the past two weeks.
Eating time graph for group 1.
A look at the groups eating behavior during this time (September 13th, 2018 5-7am), reveals that this group’s accessibility to feed could be improved.
Before the pen is taken to the parlor, about 7% of the pen is eating. Around 5am, as the first cows of the group are starting to make their way towards the parlor, the percentage of cows eating increases.
When most of the cows are either in the parlor or in the holding pen, eating drops significantly.
As cows begin returning to the pen, eating increases significantly. Until, at about 7am, there’s no more feed left.
Only at 9 am a fresh batch of feed is delivered to the pen. The cows spent two hours without feed—two hours of their day wasted!
We see that eating time just takes off like a rocket and the corresponding activity level has increased from normal levels, suggesting that this pen was very hungry by that time. You could almost imagine the feeding frenzy that took place!
Only one question remains now. Is this the rule or a one-day exception?
‘Group Rumination Routine’ graph shows real time rumination levels (purple line) relative to the two-week average activity levels (gray line) of the pen.
A look at the ‘Group Routine’ rumination graph tells us that, at least for the past two weeks, feed delivery pattern has been relatively the same.
For this dairy, we would suggest redesigning their feeding management program.
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