Milk production opportunities are waiting in the feedbunk

Posted on January 22, 2018 in Dairy Performance
By Jon Rasmussen
Have you visited a nature park and climbed to the top of a tall observation tower?  Finding your way through the woods is completely different after gaining this overview compared to standing on the ground.

How we observe cow behavior at the feedbunk can also really make a difference in what we see.  If we expand our view, we can gain a lot by improving feedbunk behavior.

Technology from the woods
Fairly simple technology often found in the woods can be one of the most effective ways to obtain the information we want.  Trail cameras or time-lapse video cameras are often used to gather pictures at set moments in time.  Some are set up to collect a picture every 30 minutes while others are triggered by any motion that passes by.  These pictures inform us of activity that occurs while we are not there and – maybe as importantly – the activity we don’t notice while we are there.

We are often better able to focus on these images compared to a long, continuous video feed from more advanced technology.  Relatively inexpensive time-lapse cameras have also gained popularity in the last few years as ways to make observations in barns with limited Wi-Fi or cellular capability.

These cameras can help us discover things that will improve feedbunk consistency.  For example, if performed thoroughly, these observations will help us understand what activities led to the challenging “empty bunk syndrome.”

Case study:  What we saw
I worked with a farm where the team commonly joked that the weekend feeder helped the farm get more milk than the regular feeder.  We reviewed reports from the TMR software, but couldn’t see much difference in how the mixes were loaded and the time they were delivered.  We thought it would be interesting to focus on what happens at the feedbunk.

We picked an ideal setting for the camera where we could view the pre-fresh, post-fresh and a high group of milk cows with one angle.  This location also let us set the motion detection features on the camera to only record movement in the feed alley in addition to a picture every 20 minutes.

The 3,000-plus images we collected were overwhelming, but became much more effective when we turned them into a simple 20-minute video and jotted down notes about when many activities occurred in the pens and at the feedbunk.

One of our biggest observations was that not all employees understood the value of feed push-ups.

The night crew on staff Thursday through Sunday always completed the 10:30 p.m. push-up, whereas the Monday-through-Wednesday crew missed some push-ups.  With the shift starting on Thursday, the manger was always empty by Friday morning, and intakes would get bumped up.  On Saturday, the manger would look good, but, by Sunday, some excess feed was left.

The regular feeder who came in on Monday, would see the amount of refusals were higher and reduce intakes.  Monday evening’s feed pusher would miss the 10:30 p.m. push-up and help make it look like the intakes were spot on for Tuesday morning.  But intakes were inconsistent and lower overall, which led to days with empty feedbunks and lower milk production.

We shared these observations at a team meeting and, as a result, the 10:30 p.m. feed push-up improved.  Cows crave consistency.  Giving them that consistency improved intakes and subsequent milk production.

Time-lapse cameras can help us see a bigger picture of feedbunk behavior than we would typically see with a walk down the feed alley.  It’s definitely like finding your way out of a large forest after climbing to the top of an observation tower – it’s easier to navigate when you see the entire forest instead of just a few trees.

This article was originally written for the November 7, 2017 issue of Progressive DairymanClick here for the full article.

About the author:  Jon Rasmussen is a dairy technology specialist on the Vita Plus team.  He grew up on a small dairy farm in northeast Wisconsin.  Rasmussen attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science.  For the past six years, he’s specialized in records analysis for the Vita Plus dairy team.  He works with dairy producers and consultants to help them evaluate data for improved dairy business management.

Category: Dairy Performance
Feed quality and nutrition
Forage storage and management
Milk production and components
Technology and data management