How to sort out the picky eaters

Derek Casey looks at a Dutch so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of cows ‘feed sort­ing’ their win­ter ra­tions

Irish Independent - Farming - - MACHINERY -

AWELL-KNOWN phe­nom­e­non on many farms dur­ing win­ter is the way in which cows move their noses through the feed in or­der to try and ex­tract the tasti­est feed.

Known as ‘feed sort­ing’, the process is costly and un­wanted be­cause it can leave valu­able feed com­po­nents wasted on the ground and lead to lower feed ef­fi­ciency, ru­mi­nal aci­do­sis and re­duced dry mat­ter in­take. But is there any way of stop­ping cows from sort­ing their food at the bar­rier?

Dutch dairy farm­ers and fa­ther and son part­ner­ship Bert and Robert Ver­steeg think they have found a way to min­imise feed sort­ing.

Last year, the Ver­steeg’s feed con­sul­tant pointed out that sort­ing be­hav­iour by their cows could be re­duced fur­ther de­spite their al­ready good yield of 27kg of milk per cow per day. Bert Ver­steeg ex­plained: “The feed looked well mixed to me, but a con­sul­tant vis­it­ing our farm was not sat­is­fied.”

One of the con­sul­tant’s rec­om­men­da­tions was a change in the load­ing or­der of the dif­fer­ent feed in­gre­di­ents.

The ra­tions Bert gives his cows con­sist of pressed pulp, two dif­fer­ent con­cen­trates, grass silage and maize.

He drives his 10-year-old 18 m3 Solomix mixer feeder wagon along the con­cen­trate si­los and silage pits as part of his daily rou­tine for load­ing.

The or­der in which the var­i­ous feed com­po­nents were loaded was mainly de­ter­mined by the lo­gis­tic or­gan­i­sa­tion of the farm­yard and by habit. The con­cen­trate si­los are next to the shed where the mixer feeder wagon is stored, so Bert log­i­cally started by load­ing the rel­a­tively fine con­cen­trate and then drove from the shed to­wards the grass and maize pits.

Wa­ter was added be­tween the con­cen­trate and the silage to make the com­po­nents stick to­gether. The feed con­sul­tant’s as­sess­ment showed that the grass silage did not sep­a­rate well and there­fore did not mix prop­erly when added to the ra­tions as the fi­nal com­po­nent.

Load­ing or­der

The load­ing or­der was changed so that in­stead of load­ing the con­cen­trate first, Bert now starts by adding the grass. He ex­plained: “I first load the grass silage and then add one third of the maize.

“I mix that for about 15 min­utes and I then add wa­ter and con­cen­trate.” Load­ing the mix­ing tub with the tex­tured grass and a lit­tle maize first makes it eas­ier for the two augers to process the com­pact feed and for the auger knives to do their job.

“The finer con­cen­trate com­po­nents are not added un­til the grass has been cut and sep­a­rated prop­erly. All the mix­ing takes about half an hour. The new load­ing or­der makes it a lot eas­ier to mix the ra­tions and also re­quires less trac­tor power.

The auger knives were also con­sid­ered. Both augers had five short knives.

One short knife at the bot­tom of the auger has now been re­placed by a long knife, which loosens the com­pacted grass for eas­ier mix­ing.

The use of the counter knives was not rec­om­mended for this ra­tion. The counter knives are some­times rec­om­mended to cre­ate back pres­sure in the mix­ing ves­sel to bet­ter cut the feed, but the ben­e­fits of counter knives are highly de­pen­dent on the type of roughage.

It is ad­vis­able to use counter knives for long shapes, such as round bales, but they may have the op­po­site ef­fect on rel­a­tively com­pact roughage types.

With a few small ad­just­ments, the Ver­steeg ra­tions are now much bet­ter mixed and the cows are show­ing less sort­ing be­hav­iour.

Bert added: “Af­ter three months, we can cer­tainly say that the rec­om­men­da­tions are hav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the se­lec­tion be­hav­iour and pro­duc­tion. As well as load­ing or­der, the qual­ity of the knives is very im­por­tant and re­plac­ing them reg­u­larly can make a huge dif­fer­ence.”

AF­TER THREE MONTHS THERE IS A DEF­I­NITE IM­PROVE­MENT IN SE­LEC­TION BE­HAV­IOUR AND PRO­DUC­TION

A well-mixed ra­tion pre­vents the cows from feed sort­ing their win­ter ra­tions

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