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Conduct a TMR audit to deliver your best ration

Tom Oelberg for Progressive Dairy Published on 03 October 2021
Feed wagon

Obviously, the right nutrition has a significant impact on the health of your herd. But delivering those nutrients consistently every time can play a large role in whether cows are productive and healthy.

A ration balanced to support immune function, mixed and delivered consistently, can help prevent adverse health events and provide financial returns to producers.

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Start with a TMR audit

Over a decade ago, our company introduced a unique, systematic approach to measuring the operational efficiency of a dairy’s feeding system. This TMR Audit analyzes how you feed your cows, as well as the consistency and homogeneity of the ration consumed by each animal. Based on the analysis, the audit offers suggestions for continuous improvement, which can lead to greater efficiency and productivity. Our representatives conduct hundreds of audits each year, checking for ration consistency in the feedbunk, feed delivery precision, feed centre efficiency, shrink prevention and mixer maintenance.

One outcome of the audit is to help reduce variation of the major ingredients. How feed is mixed impacts variation, and minimal variation is very important in keeping cows healthy and maintaining high milk production. The Mixing Factors Scorecard is an essential part of the TMR Audit. Here is what it scores:

TMR Mixing Factors Scorecard

  1. Auger, kicker plate, knife wear
  2. Auger timing
  3. Level mixer box
  4. Hay/straw processing
  5. Loading position on box (need to be in the centre)
  6. Mix time after last ingredient
  7. Ingredient mix order
  8. Liquid distribution (needs to go in the centre)
  9. Load sizes (above/below augers)
  10. Auger speed (brand/model- specific)
  11. Forage restrictor setting

An audit examines anything that can affect a cow’s ability to eat. Conducting this analysis helps dairies improve feeding efficiency, which optimizes their investment in feed centres and mixing equipment.

A TMR Audit for a 400-cow dairy in the Upper Midwest revealed that poorly processed alfalfa hay was causing significant sorting. The producer changed the TMR loading sequence slightly to increase hay processing. Bulk tank milk production and milk components were tracked 28 days before and 28 days after the audit. The TMR was well balanced for nutrition and health even before the audit, with exception of the poorly processed hay.

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As a result of the change, cows produced more with better components over the next 28 days after the audit with less variation in bulk tank milk weights and milk components. This told us that when every bite, every day for every cow is consistent, better rumen health and feed digestion results in more consistent production.

Share audit results with your feeder teams

Audit results should have a thorough review by all employees involved with the feeding operation, and that group should work together toward manageable solutions. Make sure everyone involved in the feeding process has input during this meeting: all the feeders, the feed department manager, dairy managers, calf and heifer managers, maintenance department manager, farm manager, nutritionist and farm veterinarian. Make sure everyone has a chance to share opinions, ask questions and join in the discussion.

In this meeting, stress the importance of consistency and help everyone understand that consistency comes from strictly following feeding protocols. Help everyone understand the importance of keeping fresh, properly mixed TMR in front of cows at all times. Stress that when cows consistently consume a balanced ration, it has a positive impact on both health and performance. Following some core feeding rules can help achieve this goal:

  • Feed each pen at the same time each day. Altering feeding time will decrease dry matter intake (DMI).

  • Test dry matter on a regular basis. Discuss with your nutritionist how often you should do it, and make sure the right tools are available to do the testing in a timely manner.

  • Always feed ingredients that are mould-free and avoid feeds that are excessively wet or warm.

  • Do not overfill a mixer, as this will lead to inconsistent and inaccurate mixing.

  • Provide feed in consistent amounts across all available bunk space.

  • Keep the feed pushed up at all times and redistribute as needed so all cows in the pen have access 24-7.

  • Record refusals daily to get accurate DMIs.

Many producers have seen firsthand how changes to the feeding process can impact performance. This past year, a TMR Audit was conducted on a 5,000-cow dairy in the Upper Midwest. The producer was not satisfied with the quality of feed being delivered in the bunk. In this situation, an audit revealed a worn mixer wagon was contributing to the TMR inconsistency. This worn mixer wagon was not only negatively impacting milk production but health as well.

Each day, 20 to 30 cows were pulled aside for various nutrition-related treatments. After discussion with the owner and his nutritionists, they decided to upgrade to a new mixer wagon, which resulted in a more evenly mixed ration. The number of cows pulled from pens for off-feed issues dropped to two to three cows per day in the entire barn. After an additional TMR Audit on the new wagon, we were able to tighten up his feed costs and increase milk production thanks to the ability to deliver a consistent ration to every cow every day.

Any time feeding parameters change, we create change inside the rumen. Watching your feeder deviations is incredibly important. The lower the deviations, the more consistent the ration. If you see an overload or underload of a certain ingredient, this will help you dial in where you’re having variations in your diet. Cows crave consistent feed. It’s essential to health, production and profitability.

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The TMR Audit is a proven system to measure feeding efficiency and has helped producers get the most out of their feeding systems for more than a decade. Enhancing the consistency of TMRs improves cow health and performance – and boosts dairy profitability. Since January of 2008, we have conducted roughly 10,000 audits on farms around the world, helping producers increase dairy efficiency. Today’s TMR Audits can detect inconsistencies in the ration and help identify other feed-related management opportunities. As a result, herd performance and the bottom line advance, along with overall dairy performance and safety. end mark

PHOTO: Feed wagon. Staff photo.

Thomas Oelberg has a Ph.D. in dairy nutrition from Ohio State University and is employed by Diamond V as a dairy technical service specialist based in Minnesota.

Dr. Tom Oelberg
  • Dr. Tom Oelberg

  • Ruminant Field Tech Specialist
  • Diamond V
  • Email Dr. Tom Oelberg

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