Why you should check the feeding habits of cows

In order to evaluate the level of feed sorting in your dairy farm, producers need to understand the symptoms, causes and consequences of the ‘vice’ before it becomes a problem, especially cows fed on Total Mixed Rations (TMR).

When a well-balanced all-palatable ration is provided, cows bury their heads down onto the feed and eat aggressively from the top, with the head often staying on one spot or moving slightly.

On the other hand, sorting raises a red flag on feed palatability and to practically see this, look for the warning signs expressed by the majority of cows.

In most cases, cows will show a pattern of circling the feed with their noses and nibbling. Lots of feed will be falling off their mouths and you will see holes burrowed in the feed in attempts to look for fresh, finer and palatable feed.

There are common contributors to over-sorting by dairy cows. One such is the feed particle size. Who would eat bones first when served with plenty of beef steak?

Cows have a similar feeding intelligence. When forage fibre is cut long, cows will sort through the feed and consume the more palatable ones, a practice which is worsened when the lengthy chops are not favourite part of their diets.

Chews between 55-70 times per cud is normal for a healthy cow. Putting too much concentrates in diet is another risk. If using TMR, it is advisable to follow the level of inclusions of concentrate part as prescribed by your nutritionist.

Then again, farmers who supplement cows with dairy meal are not off the hook. It is obvious that dairy meal is desired by every cow and increases milk production but attempts to over feed them on this encourages heavy feed sorting.

You may sometimes wonder why some animals crowded for instance in a lactation herd are much thinner than their mates yet they are fed the ‘same’ ration. This is due to their inability to compete for feed trough space.

It is therefore a good practice to group cows differently. Feeding troughs should be easily accessible and placed at reasonable heights where at all cows can feed at the same time to minimise or eliminate competition when feeding.

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