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Chapter 10 Feeding the dairy herd.


After completing the study of this chapter, you should be able to

* identify the key components of a feeding system.

* explain the advantages and disadvantages of various feed storage facilities for forage, grain, and supplements.

* explain the advantages and disadvantages of various TMR mixers.

* define a feeding program, choose a feed storage method, and select an appropriate TMR mixer for an existing dairy that will accommodate its short- and long-term goals.



commodity storage

feed shrinkage

feeding waste

fermentation waste

forage dry matter (DM)

harvest waste

horizontal silo

silage bag


upright bin

One of the basic questions that must be asked in planning an expansion is how animals will be fed and manure disposed of. In northern climates, both feed and manure contain a large percentage of moisture, which makes it costly to transport them. The feeding program and feed, storage system selected should be based on the long-term availability and cost of feed, and feed and manure handling costs. Selecting a feeding system is not as simple as selecting the right total mixed rations (TMR) mixer. It starts with determining the herd feeding program. Considerations include feed acquisition planning, cropping enterprise evaluation, and feed storage, loading, mixing, and delivery implications.

Defining Your Feeding Program

Defining the best feeding program for a herd involves knowing the supply and costs of each ingredient. The feeding program for an operation may change between phases of the operation's development because of changes in the total needs of the herd and in the local supply of individual forages. Feeding trials generally demonstrate similar milk production from cows fed diets based on either corn or alfalfa silage. Use of a single forage source may require better herd management-or, at least, different operating procedures-to prevent adverse effects on cow health or milk production. In the Midwest, use of at least one-third each of alfalfa and corn silage is recommended to reduce risk of crop loss, spread labor requirements, and make better use of on-farm nutrients. As herd size increases, the percentage of corn silage in the diet normally increases because of its yield, harvesting, packing, and palatability advantages. Each dairy manager must consider local economics to define the operation's feeding program, and then plan acquisitions and storage requirements accordingly.

Determining Feed Storage Needs

Feed storage for forage, grain, and concentrates must be determined. Forage, the largest component of dairy rations, can be stored in upright bins, horizontal silos (bunkers or trenches), stacks, silage bags, or dry hay storage. Upright silos are the logical choice for small dairies, but they have limited value with large dairies because of the time required to fill and unload them (Figure 10-1). Bag storage can result in high feed quality, low feed wastage, and low annual cost, but bag disposal and animal and weather damage must be considered (Figure 10-2). Bags are often the logical choice of expanding dairies during their transition phases because of their minimal capital expenditure, and location and capacity flexibility. Flat silage stacks using crushed rock, blacktop, or concrete bases provide satisfactory results if properly managed (Figures 10-3, 10-4, and 10-5). Bunkers increase capacity, improve packing ability, and improve safety over silage stacks (Figures 10-6, 10-7, and 10-8). They can result in lower silage loss than improperly built and poorly maintained stacks. Grain and concentrates are normally stored in upright bins or flat-floored commodity storage areas. Bins with large augers can unload feed rapidly, minimize waste, and lead to accurate loading because of their precise cut-off controls (Figure 10-3). Having to take the mix wagon to the bin to load ingredients is a disadvantage. Flat grain and commodity storage allows quick loading of ingredients into mixers but must be carefully managed to minimize feed shrinkage and to ensure that accurate amounts of each feed are loaded into mixers (Figure 10-9). The number and size of feed storage units are determined by the total capacity needed by the operation at each phase of its growth, and the number of ingredients in the rations. Individual units should be sized to ensure a proper removal rate based on herd size and feeding rate. Multiple silos increase handling and management flexibility.










Feed Mixing and Delivery Options

Total mixed rations, in which all forages, grains, and supplements are blended together into a homogeneous mixture prior to feeding, are used in most modern dairy operations. They allow separate groups of animals to be fed according to their nutrient requirements. Implementing TMR feeding normally increases feed intake, reduces digestive upsets, and improves the intake of low-palatability products. It is advisable to incorporate TMR feeding systems into any modernization plans. Housing that restricts animal grouping, and the high capital cost of TMR mixers, may preclude their use in some smaller operations.

When selecting a TMR mixer, the dairy manager may select mobile units that are used to deliver the feed to feed bunks, or stationary units that require conveying systems to deliver the feed mixture to the animals. Mobile mixers provide more flexibility, allowing feed ingredients to be loaded from different locations and animals to be fed at remote sites. Animal intake levels and feeding frequency determine the batch size for any animal group. The mixer should be sized so that the largest batch is 60-70 percent of the mixer's rated capacity. Mounting a mobile mixer on a truck is recommended if animals are fed at remote locations. There are many types of TMR mixers on the market (auger, tumble, reel, ribbon, etc.). Each type has advantages and disadvantages that the dairy manager must consider when making a buying decision.

Balancing Feed Storage Capacities with Expected Needs

Managers planning to modernize an existing operation should remember that direction of change is more important than speed. Often a phased approach involving several small changes can lead to the same end result, with less risk and trauma, than one large change. If the phased approach is selected, the decision maker should define the feed and feeding requirements at each phase and purchase only the required inputs as needed.

The Decision Process--An Example

The Smith family dairy farm currently owns 100 milk cows, 90 heifers, and 300 acres of land. Cows are housed in a tie-stall barn and milked with a pipeline milker, and manure is hauled daily. Their feeding program is based on baled hay and corn silage, which is stored overhead in the barn and in two tower silos. Two families operate the dairy, and together they have four children aged five to nine. One brother enjoys the dairy herd management chores, and the other enjoys the crop and heifer-raising aspects of the operation. One wife has record-keeping responsibilities, and the other has calf-raising responsibilities.

As these families review their operation, they realize they need to change, to keep up with the industry and to replace crop equipment and feed storage facilities that are no longer functional. At a family planning meeting, after reviewing their balance sheet and family goals, they agree that they are willing to borrow up to $1 million to make the improvements needed to become a long-term viable operation.

Working with a local consultant, they evaluate the feasibility of different herd sizes and facility types. They analyze the dairy, heifer, and crop enterprises separately to determine the feasibility of keeping each of the enterprises as they expand. They agree on a long-term plan to develop a 600-cow herd. This would be done in two phases, with the first phase having 300 head of milking cows. Since the heifer operation historically operates at a break-even level, and considering the shortage of cropland to support the expanded dairy, they agree to sell the operation's heifers and buy all replacement animals. Since their cropping equipment must be replaced, and they need additional feed, they agree to (1) sell existing cropping equipment, (2) purchase new haylage harvesting equipment, and (3) hire a custom operator to plant crops and harvest corn silage. They arrange to rent additional land from a neighbor for alfalfa and to buy corn silage in the field.

As they evaluate their existing feed storage, they realize that only one of their feed storage structures fits the new operation. This 20- X 50-foot tower silo is in good repair and is located where it can continue to be used. The forage storage analysis in Table 10-1 shows their plan for feed storage, based on the feeding program developed with their nutritionist. The table shows the different sizes of the forage storage units that would be added at each stage of the expansion. The percentage values shown are the combined amounts of the listed unit and those listed above it. An additional column was included to evaluate the effect of a later possible expansion to 1,200 head. The shaded values on the diagonal indicate that each additional storage unit provides sufficient storage to cover the needs of the dairy at that phase of expansion. It also shows that if all the units were built too early, there would be tremendous overcapacity that could not be economically justified.

Cropland Required

When determining the amount of feed needed to support a dairy herd, it is important to consider the number of animals and their size, ration ingredients, milk production levels, and all wastages expected. Crop amounts that account for expected intake, harvest waste, fermentation waste, and feeding waste must be estimated. Table 10-2 shows the amount of losses to expect with different methods of harvesting hay. High-producing cows are often fed 5-10 percent more TMR than their expected intake (Figure 10-10). To determine the forage needs for a 300-cow herd, the Smiths performed a cropland needs analysis (Table 10-3). Based on their expected feeding program, about 800 acres of cropland would be needed for the first phase of their expansion.


Determining Forage Storage Type

To determine what forage storage system is best for a dairy, both the current and the long-term needs of the operation must be considered. If capital is limited, sometimes minimizing initial cost and incurring additional long-term labor costs can be justified. This is especially true if the initial purchase can be upgraded later (e.g., sides put on concrete pads to make bunkers). However, it is usually better to base the buying decision on the expected average annual total cost. Holmes (1996) showed the economic effect of different forage storage systems at different herd sizes. Table 10-4 shows the average capital cost, and Table 10-5 the average annual cost per ton of forage dry matter (DM) stored. The cost per ton decreases for all types as herd size increases, and piles and bags always require a substantially lower initial cost. When the annual costs are compared, this large difference disappears, and the decision may be based more on convenience or other related issues.

The Smiths did their research, and using all the values collected during the planning phase, they narrowed the choices to the two feed storage alternatives shown in Table 10-6. As they reviewed these options, they chose to use bags on a stone pad because they felt it gave them more flexibility and allowed them to keep some cash reserves in case they encountered cost overruns or additional start-up costs.


When selecting a feeding system, as with other components of the dairy system, it is important to consider both the initial and ongoing operating costs. Each purchase should complement the needs of the dairy at the time of purchase and be usable during later expansion phases.


1. What are the three factors that determine a feeding program?

2. List the advantages and disadvantages of using silage bags for feed storage.

3. What are three benefits of using TMR?

4. List the three factors that account for wastage.

5. If 750 tons of baled hay are needed for feed, what is the total amount of baled hay that must be procured? Calculate tonnage amounts for both rained-on and dry baled hay.

6. The dairy profiled in this chapter opted to use bags on a stone pad to store forage, in addition to the existing 20- X 50-foot tower silo. What percentage of feed will the silo accommodate when the operation expands to 300 head? At that point, how many tons of feed will need to be stored in bags? At what point in the expansion do you think the dairy should upgrade its feed storage system?


Hoard's Dairyman. (1997). Chore reduction for confinement free stall systems-A guide to improved returns for dairymen. Chore reduction bulletin, p. 2. Fort Atkinson, WI: Author.

Holmes, B. J. (1996). Sizing and managing silage storage to maximize profitability. [Department of Biological Systems Engineering document]. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

Holmes, B. J. (I 997a). Bagged silage or bunkers? Options for the expanding dairy farm. [Department of Biological Systems Engineering document]. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

Holmes, B. J. (I 997b). Bagged silage or tower silos? Options for the non-expanding dairy farm. [Department of Biological Systems Engineering document]. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

Kammel, D. (2000). Feeding facilities. In Bickert, W G. et al., Dairy freestall housing and equipment handbook (7th ed., pp. 117-135; MWPS7). Ames, IA: Midwest Plan Service.
TABLE 10-1 Percentages of proposed forage capacity to be used for
different herd sizes.


                                            100 Head
Storage Unit                    ton DM      500 ton

20' x 50' tower                      130          26%
120' x 20' x 10' bunker silo       1,800         386%
120' x 20' x 10' bunker silo       1,800         746%
120' x 30' x 12' bunker silo       3,000       1,346%

                               % of Capacity Needed

                               300 Head     600 Head    1,200 Head
Storage Unit                   1,500 ton   3,000 ton    6,000 ton

20' x 50' tower                       9%           4%           2%
120' x 20' x 10' bunker silo        129%          64%          32%
120' x 20' x 10' bunker silo        249%         124%          62%
120' x 30' x 12' bunker silo        449%         224%         112%

TABLE 10-2 Dry matter (DM) losses of hay expected with different
harvesting techniques (Hoard's Dairyman, 1997).

                                                      Tons Needed/
                Harvest   Storage   Feeding   Total     Tons Fed

  <30% DM           2.0      21.2      11.0    34.2            1.5
  300-40% DM         5.0      10.1      11.0    26.1            1.3
  >40% DM          11.5       8.2      11.0    30.7            1.4

Baled hay
  Rained on        32.6       4.0       5.2    41.8            1.6
  No rain          17.4       3.6       5.5    26.2            1.3

Large bales
  Field cured      25.0      14.2      15.3    54.5            1.8
  Acid cured       15.0      10.7       5.5    31.2            1.4

TABLE 10-3 Acreage needed to supply feed for a 300-cow herd.

              Tons Needed   Tons Needed   Yield (Ton   Acres Needed
                as-fed         (DM)        DM)/acre       w/loss

Hay                902           767          4            192
Haylage          3,122         1,405          4            351
Corn silage      4,080         1,428          6            238
Total            8,104         3,600                       781

TABLE 10-4 Total capital cost per ton of forage dry matter stored.

                            Herd Size

                  75      150      300     600

Concrete stave   $192    $138     $132    $129
Bunkers          $152    $103      $88     $76
Piles             $63     $41      $28     $23
Bags              $88     $53      $35     $27

TABLE 10-5 Total annual cost per ton of forage dry matter stored.

                             Herd Size

                  75      150     300     600

Concrete stave   $46      $36     $35     $34
Bunkers          $45      $37     $35     $32
Piles            $37      $32     $30     $29
Bags             $38      $32     $28     $27

TABLE 10-6 Expected initial costs of feed storage options.

                     Construction   Equipment      Total
                         Cost          Cost      Investment

Bags on stone pad      $27,280       $27,075      $54,355
Bunker with 8'
  sidewalls           $121,428       $11,025     $132,453
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Author:Palmer, Roger W.
Publication:Dairy Modernization
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Previous Article:Chapter 9 Milking center options.
Next Article:Chapter 11 Manure handling options.

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