It is important to ensure that your cows are eating as much forage as possible and that design faults or lack of space in your feed areas are not limiting the cow’s intake. A lack of space can lead to timid cows and heifers being bullied and prevented from eating until older, more aggressive cows have finished. This can lead to the more timid cows receiving a very different diet to the one you think you are feeding as the cows eating first will tend to eat all the goodies before the silage. Two indicators that this may be a problem are:
• Variable dung consistency within the herd, with some cows having very loose dung and others having much stiffer dung.
• Nussle holes in the feed with cows sifting through the feed for the concentrates and additives.
Lack of space can also lead to reduced milk yields as cows are prevented from eating their full requirement of dry matter in a day. It is not necessary to have one feed space per cow if you are feeding a complete diet that is well mixed and available 24 hours per day. However, the more you reduce the space available the more bullying occurs resulting in poor cow interaction. At most the cow feed space should be reduced by no more than 75% providing the diet is available 24 hours per day.
The table below shows the required feed area per cow if all cows are to be able to eat at the same time:
It is very simple to check how much space your cows have and once you know, you can decide if you need any more. A drop in dry matter intakes of 1 kg could be costing you 2 litres of milk!
Having the feed barrier top bar too low will also limit dry matter intakes. If the cow has to reach to eat and put pressure on her neck it causes pain so is less likely to eat and stretch for the feed. This can be a particular issue for the timid cows that are trying to eat food moved out of the way by the more aggressive eaters.
This winter on one of our clients farms we have increased the feed trough space and loafing area. The cows are much more settled now, and dry matter intakes have increased by 10-15%, leading to an increase in yield of 2.5 litres per cow compared to the previous year.
How much Feed Space have your cows got this winter?
To discuss how you can improve the feed area for your dairy cows, contact Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org or your local FCG Office.