The best menu for your cows

Feed strategy and management are of great influence on your herd's performance. Continuously monitor the various rations. Ask yourself the questions, what do I feed my cows, is this sufficient for the production? And how efficient are my cows using the fed ration? Find out more in this article.

Management, Forage, Milking

When discussing cow’s rations we can define four different rations: 
1. The basis is the calculated ration; what do the cows need to produce the average milk yield? 
2. The actual fed ration at the feed fence, is this fully according the calculated ration?
3. The eaten ration. When cows have the chance they will sort for the best, so we see a ration that is eaten by the cows. 
4. The digested ration. How efficient have the cows used the ration, so called ‘feed efficiency’.
In addition we take in account that cows need to be motivated to go to the milking robot voluntary and regularly.

1. The calculated ration
Utilizing the Partly Mixed Ration (PMR) feeding strategy, where the average energy requirement minus 7 kg is fed at the feed fence, cows get the remaining energy during their visits at the milking robot in terms of concentrate.

As mentioned, a balanced ration at the feed fence is of great importance. There needs to be enough energy, not too much or too less, there needs to be enough fiber, not too much or too less, etc. When calculating this ration, with or without help of a feed advisor, it is important to calculate it on the basis of the cows’ requirements. These requirements are depending on factors like milk production level, age, reproduction status and stage of lactation. The aim is to provide an optimally balanced ration containing the correct amount of nutrients (energy, protein and fiber) by mixing various feed types. Type of feed available is depending on local circumstances.

2. The fed ration 
The fed ration must be evenly distributed and well-mixed to prevent cows selecting the tastiest parts from it. Such selection may cause a large variation in rumen pH with an increased chance on rumen acidosis. You can use a Pennstate Forage Separator to monitor the ration and determine how many large and smaller particles the mixed ration contains. Monitoring just after feeding and a couple of hours later will give a good impression of the cows’ eating behavior.

3. The eaten ration
In addition it is important to keep the feed fresh in front of the cows. Investigations done by Lely as well as independent research (Ph. D. Trevor DeVries; Associate Professor of the University of Guelph, Canada) indicate feeding smaller amounts of feed multiple times per day has proven to have a positive effect on the cow’s rumen PH. The effect of feeding cows more frequently can be seen in figure 1; frequent feeding (red line) prevents rumen pH from dropping below 5.80, which is the threshold value. When feeding just once or twice a day (blue line), rumen pH will drop and this will immediately affect feed efficiency.

Figure 1 Frequent feeding versus feeding twice a day

4. The digested (fermented) ration, i.e. feed efficiency
Besides a healthy rumen, feed efficiency is a good indicator of the digested ration. You can judge manually-visually by scoring the cows’ manure, but you can also monitor data and manage your farm on fact-based information via T4C.The value of feed efficiency is the number of kg milk a cow can produce from one kg of Dry Matter (DM). When using the Lely Vector automatic feeding system this indicator is a KPI within T4C. For example, for a cow eating 20kg of DM/day and producing 24kg milk/day the feed efficiency is 1.20 (24/20 = 1.20). If rumen health is improved, by for example a change in fiber or protein or mixing strategy, the same cow could produce 26kg of milk, resulting in a feed efficiency of 1.30 (+10%).


Proper management will save you labor and increase overall efficiency. Besides your robotic management the feed management and strategy should be in place. By answering the questions as stated in the introduction you can continuously monitor your management and improve where necessary. When required, consult your local feed or FMS advisor for your specific circumstances.