Observing cow behaviour in the barn and at the feed fence for a period of time can provide you with a lot of information. This information is very useful to help manage the feeding strategy. It is important monitor cow behaviour daily as it gives you information you can react to directly in order to create the best feeding conditions on your farm.
Management, T4C & InHerd, Feeding, Tips & Tricks
A cow’s behaviour provides many signals, but you will not see them if you do not watch patiently. Create a moment during the day to observe the cows without disturbing them too much. For example, you could watch them every morning before checking the attention lists in T4C. The benefit of this time is that you have background information from their signals that you can combine with the information provided by the attention lists in T4C.
Some questions you can ask yourself when observing the cows are:
How many cows are resting and how many of them are eating?
In a stress-free situation, every cow needs to lay down and eat when she wants to – not to be forced to eat or lay down because there are not enough feeding places or cubicles, for example. Normally, 7 out of 10 cows should be laying down and ruminating with the others feeding, drinking, interacting and being milked.
If you feed the cows multiple times a day (at least two times) with the Vector, there is no need for the animals to visit the feed fence all at once, because there is always enough fresh feed available for them. If you see a feed fence completely filled with cows right after the Vector has dosed feed, this can be a sign that there are not enough feedings a day. Causes might be a dosing weight per fence that is too low or a feed height threshold that is not high enough.
Is there enough feed available for the animals?
Look a few times during the day over the feed alley to see what the feed level is. If you notice that there is too much or too little feed available during the day or at certain moments such as the eating peak in the morning and afternoon, you can adjust the feed height setting and feed pause settings in the Vector system. Dosing weight, feed height and moment of feeding all have an influence on one another. This is why these settings should be balanced, which requires visual checks of what is going on the farm. Of course, choosing the right setting depends also on the preferences of the farmer and his management.
Are the cows sorting?
It is not easy to avoid cows from sorting feed, but it is relatively easy to see the signal of sorting cows. They sniff and stir their noses through the feed, looking for the tasty concentrates and licking them up. Holes and empty spots appear on the feed alley if cows are sorting feed.
However, creating the best possible mix of ration, served to the cows multiple times a day, already reduces the chance that cows will consume unbalanced feed. With the Vector system, you can adjust the ration and/or loading order every moment of the day to improve the mixing quality of the ration. Keep the basic rule of thumb – long before short and dry before wet – in mind.
Translate cow signals to Vector feeding settings
If you see any deviations in the points above, you can act directly on them by checking the Vector feed settings in T4C.
Fence settings is the place to see the set feed height, dosing weight and feed pause.
The feed height level depends on a combination of feed places, number of cows and feed intake. So, if the feed intake changes, you can act directly on this by lowering or increasing the threshold of the feed height. A feed pause can be useful in a situation when do not want the Vector to feed the cows during a certain period of time, but you still want the Vector to push the feed to make sure it is in reach of the cows.
Always bear in mind you need to serve several fresh portions of feed during day and night, so that cows always have fresh feed available.
If you have noticed sorting behaviour of the cows, you can easily adjust the ration settings in T4C. Settings like loading order and mixing minutes can improve the mixing quality directly. If you have very dry feed stuffs, consider adding water to the mix to ensure minerals stick to the roughages.
When working with long and dry materials, put them in first and add the other shorter feed types in step 2. You can even decide to use the in-between mixing time for feedstuffs that need more intensive cutting. Make sure not to finish with long feed types (last grab), since they tend to float on top of the ration and therefore establish lower mixing quality. Putting a heavy/wet feed type in last will give that bit of extra pressure to improve mixing behaviour.
General guidelines for mixing times are:
- Ration with overall short feed stuffs (high concentrate rations): 2 – 5 minutes
- Ration with overall medium feed stuffs (corn / grass silage): 6 – 10 minutes
- Ration with overall long feed stuffs (round bales, uncut materials): 10 – 15 minutes
Also, make sure not to overload the MFR, as this will negatively influence the mixing behaviour and decrease the quality of the mix.