The Value of Good Feed Bunk Management

Published on Mon, 10/29/2018 - 10:20am

 The Value of Good Feed Bunk Management

 By James C. Coomer, PhD, PAS

 Feed bunk management represents a very important aspect of the productivity and profitability of all dairy operations. Proper feed bunk management is important for maximizing dry matter intake (DMI) and optimizing production. For each one pound increase in DMI, a cow can produce 1 to 2 lbs. more milk. Several aspects of feed bunk management need to be considered:
    •    Feeding environment.
    •    Selection of feed ingredients.
    •    Presentation of feed ingredients.

Feeding Environment
Provide 18-30 inches of bunk space per cow, with the feedbunk floor having a smooth surface placed at ground level or raised four to six inches. Neck rails or cables at the feed bunk need to be positioned ahead of the cow so they do not restrict access to the feed.
The feeding area should be covered or shaded and have a cooling system (soaker hose and fans) for use during hot weather (temperatures above 65 with high humidity can result in heat stress for the cow).

Selection of Feed Ingredients
Selection of feed ingredients is important for two main reasons:
    •    Palatability of the ration
    •    Proper rumen function and digestion

It is important to offer dairy cows the most appealing ration, while still providing proper nutrition for optimal production. Sometimes it is necessary to incorporate a feedstuff known to be less desirable (i.e. fish meal, blood meal, anionic salts, etc.) into a ration for nutritional reasons. When this situation occurs, producers should take precautions to reduce or eliminate opportunities for feed refusal or decreased DMI. One way to accomplish this is to mix the unique feedstuff with feedstuffs of known desirability prior to feeding. Always avoid feeding these unique feedstuffs separately (top dressed), which allows the cow to choose not to eat it and consume an unbalanced ration.
In terms of selecting feed ingredients for proper rumen function, several aspects are important.
    •    Do not feed moldy feedstuffs to dairy cows if it can possibly be avoided. Some molds produce compounds known as mycotoxins that can negatively affect the rumen environment, as well as the cow’s health and wellbeing.  
    •    Sufficient long fiber in the ration helps prevent digestive upset and lactic acidosis.  Adequate long fiber is needed to stimulate cud chewing, which enhances saliva production.
    •    When using haylage, a 3/8  to ½ inch theoretical length of cut (TLC) is preferred with 20-25% of the particles over 1.5 inches in length.  Corn silage should have a 3/8 inch to ¾ inch TLC (depending on amount of processing, length can be longer with better processing).  A kernel processor on the silage harvester is recommended in order to break up the kernels and cobs in the silage.  
    •    Also of concern to rumen function is avoidance of too many high-moisture ingredients in the diet.

Presentation of Feed Ingredients
Cows should be fed a well-balanced ration and first lactation cows fed separately, if at all possible.  The diet should be uniform, cool, and fresh (not moldy). Feed or “push-up” the ration a minimum of two to three times per day.  
Sufficient feed should be offered to allow for 3% to 5% feed refusals. Feed refusals should look similar to the original diet and need to be removed daily.

Feed bunk management includes the feeding environment of the cow, the ingredients fed to the cow, and the manner in which ingredients are presented to the cow.  Each of these areas affects dry matter intake. On most dairy operations, dry matter intake is likely the largest single factor affecting milk production. Level of milk production has been shown to be positively correlated to profitability on most dairy operations, so it becomes obvious that feed bunk management is one of the most critical aspects of managing a profitable and prosperous dairy enterprise.