Cows are creatures of habit: consistency on farm

The need for consistency is everywhere on our dairy farms. On my travels I see inconsistencies on a daily basis which affect the performance and profitability of cows. Standard protocols or operating procedures (SOPS) are essential. These are great ways of achieving consistency but need to be implemented and allowed to evolve in a bottom up as well as on a top down basis. Enforced and rigid protocols and procedures put in place by management often fail if the people actually doing the work are not included at the initial conceptual stage. It is also important to allow SOP’s and protocols to evolve as this will encourage continuous improvement; close monitoring of the results is essential.

Cows are creatures of habit who don’t like surprises. Although they have evolved over 100’s of years and adapted into their domesticated state they still possess many behavioural attributes that are in tune with the natural environment and ingrained in their psychology and physiology.

Look at what you do on a daily basis and ask yourself a few basic questions;

Do I feed my cows at the same time every day?Feeding your cattle with consistency could be the start of something great.

If feed out time varies from day today so will DMI. If you are late feeding, refusals on that day will increase often leading to less being fed the next day. If we then feed at the correct time and we drop the feed in response the next day we are going to be short of feed and so on. All this generates inconsistency and variation in DMI and milk production. Bottom line, feed needs to be available at the bunk at all times but in order to accurately asses daily DMI’s it needs to be fed at the same time each day.

Does your team communicate effectively with the person feeding the cows on the number of cows per pen?

You would be surprised how many places I visit and no one really has an idea of how many cows are in each pen. If you do not know how many cows there are per pen how can you expect the feeder to feed the correct amount of feed? Every dairy should have a feeder station in the farm office or dairy where an up to date count of the number of cows in each pen is recorded and displayed.

Do you monitor the DM of your feed ingredients?

Variation in the dry matter of the forage and even moist feeds not stored under cover has a big impact on the variation in feed intake. Big swings in DMI are often either down to an uncommunicated change in cow numbers, but more often a change in DM of the forage being fed. Investing in a hair dryer and scales is a simple way of determining the DM of a forage or moist feed. Simply weigh 100g of material and dry it until it stops losing weight. The end weight is the DM. By knowing the DM we can easily adjust the amount of fresh forage required to provide the correct quantity of DM.

Do you experience variation in the accuracy of feeding between different operators?

If the answer to this question is yes than either they are both operating in different ways or they are not effectively handing over the role between shifts. Again, this comes down to the need for a standard operating procedure but also the setting up of a feeder station where feeding data is recorded and kept up to date. Another question to ask is are all operators trained to the same level? Some may be more proficient than others. Regular team meetings are essential in order to develop everyone to the same level.

Do I want to feed my cows more accurately and cut down on over feeding and waste and produce more milk?

If the answer to this question is yes, then you need to consider the how accurate and how consistently you feed your cows. As we move towards precision feeding of amino acids and reduced protein diets consistency and accuracy of feeding will become even more important.

Dr Huw McConochie
Head of Dairy Technical Services
Find out how to contact Huw, or another member of the Wynnstay Dairy Team, by clicking here.

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