DIET feeders are now present on approximately 50 per cent of dairy farms in Northern Ireland. Many of these farms use nutritionists to formulate rations – but are cows consistently eating the diet formulated for them?
Alan Hopps, Senior Dairy Development Adviser with the College of Agriculture, right, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), points out: “A diet feeder on a large dairy farm is required to deliver thousands of tonnes of mixed ration every year. If the mixer wagon is not properly maintained or mixing is inconsistent, digestive upsets can result. In order to avoid this happening, dairy farmers should review their approach to diet feeding before the winter commences.
“American studies have shown that there are several issues causing problems with total mixed rations on dairy farms. These are over filling; under mixing; under processing of straw; dull blades and worn kicker plates; improper loading of liquids; an improper ingredient loading sequence and ow inclusion rate products not mixed thoroughly enough.
“Solving these problems can be broadly divided into two distinct areas – maintenance of the machine and proper loading and use of the machine.”
He continued: “This time of year is the ideal time to service your diet wagon if required. If forages are not chopped as well as they were previously or the wagon is not emptying completely, it may be a sign that the blades or kicker plates are worn and need replaced. Any plastic or twine wrapped around moving parts should also be removed before the busy feeding period commences. It may also be worth ensuring that weigh cells are properly calibrated to ensure optimum feed delivery throughout the winter.
“In terms of proper use of the wagon, the same operator should fill the wagon each day if possible. The mixer wagon should be filled on a level site. Low volume ingredients should be added early to a load of feed to ensure that they are thoroughly mixed.
“Ideally, straw should be pre-chopped before loading into the wagon. A chop length averaging around 10cm for straw should be the aim. This can be achieved through using a straw grinder. Cows will not sort straw if it is chopped to this length.”
Alan Hopps concluded: “A load of feed should be mixed for three to five minutes after the last ingredient is added. If possible, a wagon should not be filled more than 75 per cent full. Overfilling may help to save time but will lead to poorly mixed rations and will be a false economy in the longer term.
“The smallest load delivered on the farm should at least cover the vertical augers in a tub type machine. This will avoid feed remaining on top of the augers and the feeder not emptying completely. Filling between the augers on a vertical wagon is also recommended.
“At this time of year, you cannot change the forages that you have in your silage pits. You can, however, influence the diet that your cows eat by ensuring your mixer wagon is ready for this winter and each load is filled correctly and mixed completely.”