TMR mixer checkups do matter
The total mixed ration (TMR) is an efficient and effective method to feed high-producing dairy cows and has been universally adopted on today’s dairy operations.
Yet, many factors can lead to significant TMR inconsistency, resulting in suboptimal milk production, components and potential herd health issues. Potential variances at each step of the feeding process can cumulatively add up, resulting in a TMR at the cow level that is very different than we expected.
Errors are costly
Since feed costs comprise the highest percentage of total production costs, this is a critical area that needs regular scrutiny and discussion. Minimizing input costs is certainly important, but what about the opportunity cost of a poorly mixed and inconsistency TMR?
Let’s put this into perspective by looking at an example of a 500-cow dairy where we could potentially save 10 cents per cow and theoretically maintain the same production, components and herd health. This adds up to a significant savings of around $18,250 per year.
On the flip side, what about the effects of an inconsistent TMR? A diet might seem low-cost on paper, but a 2-pound milk drop due to inconsistency would add up to $65,700 per year of lost income using $18 per hundredweight milk.
Bunks rarely match paper
Nutritionists spend an exceptional amount of time evaluating different combinations of homegrown feedstuffs, byproducts, proteins, minerals, vitamins and various additives. We use sophisticated ration formulation and modeling programs that predict nutrient intakes to the fourth decimal point. This is all great technology, but it needs to come together consistently in the TMR.
So, how do we know that we are achieving a consistent and nutrient-balanced diet at the cow level? What about the mechanics and maintenance of TMR mixers?
Like the milking parlor, the TMR mixer is used 365 days a year and is a critical machine that needs to be well maintained. Most dairies have a milking equipment maintenance plan to check, repair and recalibrate equipment on a regular basis. When lacking issues such as poor milk let-down, teat end damage and higher mastitis rates will occur.
This same thought process should also apply to our TMR equipment.
Even though your nutritionist can provide a nutritionally sound ration on paper, your goals will not be met without a finely tuned TMR mixer. Recognizing TMR equipment issues is not easy since the majority of the actual mixing hardware is not visible to the feeder. Many TMR audits conducted in the last few years have uncovered poorly maintained equipment as one of the main issues. Work with your nutritionist and your equipment consultant to make sure your TMR mixer has regular checkups and is working at peak performance to ensure a consistent and profitable diet.
Click the buttons below to learn about the top five issues with vertical, horizontal reel and horizontal auger mixers.
About the author: Rod Martin is a dairy specialist and a member of the Vita Plus dairy technical services team. He grew up on his family’s diversified livestock farm in southwest Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and animal science, and a master’s degree in animal nutrition. He has more than 25 years of experience in consulting with Midwest dairy operations.