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Dairy Grist

VOL 14 ISSUE 1 | S P R I N G 2012

A P E R I O D I C N E W S L E T T E R P R O D U C E D B Y G R A N D V A L L E Y F O R T I F I E R S LT D .

Jim Ross, Chairman Dear friends, As I sit down to begin to write this newsletter, the sun is again shining brightly, the temperature is 15 degrees plus Celsius and any traces of snow are fast disappearing. It is actually a beautiful, warm spring day. Most producers are expecting an early spring and it looks very much like we will be seeing field work beginning to take place in March this year. However in Canada you can never quite tell for sure what is going to happen weather-wise, especially in springtime. We all pray for a better planting season than last year. Here at Grand Valley Fortifiers we are blessed to have an great staff of Dairy Nutritionists and Specialists who are doing an excellent job of not only formulating rations but also assisting Dairy Producers in the day to day management of their operations. In this issue of our Dairy Grist Jeff Keunen, and Chris Meadows offer tips for successful robot feeding and what changes you might have to make when starting with a robotic milking system; and Matt Drummond has crafted an article touching on the benefits of automatic calf feeders. I hope you find all these articles helpful when considering making changes on your operation. If you are a dairy producer and are not presently utilizing our excellent products and services we invite you to talk to one of our Dairy Specialists or give us a call directly at 1-877-625- 4400. It would be our pleasure to assist you on your operation. Sincerely, Jim Ross

Tips for Successful Robot Feeding By: Jeff Keunen, Ruminant & Robot Nutritionist


eeding cows in a robotic milking setup requires many of the same principles that apply to any TMR fed dairy herd. While there is obviously going to be some form of concentrate being fed to the cows through the milking unit, the TMR or PMR (partially mixed ration) is still the main source of nutrient supply to the dairy cows and must be properly balanced to ensure healthy cows and good cow traffic in the barn. As always, forages remain the key to a well balanced, healthy ration. Top quality forages are essential in a robot milking ration. When making haylage the goal is to target a level of 30% acid detergent fibre (ADF). Whether it is pure grass, pure alfalfa or a combination of both in the field, ADF will be a very accurate measure of the maturity of the plant stand at harvest. A sample that is well below 30% ADF may mean that hay crop silage was cut too early. In this case, the farmer will be giving up yield and some physically effective fibre but will be gaining in protein, energy and digestible neutral detergent fibre (dNDF). On the other side of the spectrum, a sample that is well above 30% ADF means GRAND VALLEY FORTIFIERS LTD. 486 Main Street East, PO Box 726 Cambridge, ON N1R 5W6 1-800-567-4400 w w

that the haylage was cut too late and the haylage will be losing protein, energy, and dNDF and will lead to less being fed in the milk cow ration. High quality corn silage will have a dry matter between 32-38%. The corn plant will have been allowed to mature sufficiently so that the cob will have had the chance to lay down starch in the kernels. A good quality corn silage sample should have at least 30% starch and at least 40% NFC. The ideal dry matter is important as this means that the starch within the kernels is still highly available to the rumen bugs. Corn silage that is too dry results in starch that becomes less digestible within the rumen and small intestine and can result in corn being visible in the manure. Processing corn silage at harvest is very beneficial to ensure that all kernels are broken, allowing the starch to be more accessible for digestion and ensuring a consistent chop length to prevent sorting. Ian Ross, President | Jim Ross, Chairman Clarke Walker, VP & COO Mark Bowman/Jeff Keunen, Ruminant Nutritionist David Ross/Dan Goertz, Publishers

Feeding a ration with high quality haylage and corn silage allows the ration to have high levels of forage dry matter, helping to maintain rumen fill and rumen pH. High forage rations will also help reduce the nonfibre carbohydrate (NFC) and starch levels in the ration, ensuring healthy cows that will eat more feed and will be motivated to come to the robot. A robot ration also needs to have a sufficient level of physically effective NDF (peNDF) in the ration. This can sometimes be accomplished with the haylage and corn silage components of the ration, but more often chopped hay or straw need to present in the TMR. At least 0.5 kg of well chopped hay or straw can provide sufficient peNDF in the ration to help form a good rumen mat and maintain good rumen function and rumination. The key to providing the hay or straw in the ration is that it is mixed in well, so that it cannot be sorted out by the cows. If the hay or straw is being sorted at the bunk then the farmer is better off leaving it out of the mix and replacing it with forages that will be consumed. The consistency of the ration being delivered is also very important. In a robot barn cows may not have a set schedule for eating or milking as both can be done on a 24 hour basis. It is essential that the ration being fed at the bunk is consistent not only from day to day, but also throughout the day. A consistent ration ensures that the timid cow that goes to eat at the bunk when few others are around will receive the same nutrients that the dominant cow received when fresh feed was delivered. This requires the farmer or dairy specialist to do regular dry matter checks of the forages being fed, and requires the feeder to follow the ration formulation closely. This also means that the feeder keeps sufficient levels of fresh feed at the bunk on an ongoing basis. Variation of the ration throughout the day or from day to day will result in inconsistent performance of the cows on both a cow traffic and milk production level. Consider your energy source and the amount of processing that the feedstuff goes through in the robot ration. With robotic feeding there will be some level of concentrate feeding through the milking box and thus some concentrate will be removed from the TMR. Lower feeding rates may mean that a once appropriately sized high moisture corn or ear corn silo has now become too big for the herd. Being able to keep fresh, unspoiled feed in the ration is key to maintaining good intakes and milk production. Thus, it may be wise to adjust the dry matter of the grain going into the ration or adjust the size of the silo that feed is being fed out of. Feeding out of a smaller silo or finding additional areas to feed the concentrate will help keep the feed fresh, prevent spoiling and maintain performance. If spoilage continues, switching to dry grains versus high moisture will be a viable option. With the concentrate feeding in the robotic milking box, the degree of processing grains in the ration also needs to be considered. Depending on the concentrate being fed in the robot (high level of rapidly available starch versus low level of starch with more digestible fibre sources) you may need to grind your grains finer (to increase rate of digestion) or coarser (to slow rate of digestion). This is to be done to improve rumen dynamics and synergize the release of starch into the rumen from the various grain sources. Optimizing the timing of starch release will improve microbial protein production, will help maintain a healthier rumen environment, and improve cow performance. Finally, the type and quality of feed being offered in the robot is of vital importance. Cows need to be offered fresh, high quality feed in the robot that they will readily consume and be motivated to eat more. Feeding a purchased, prepared pellet is the easiest solution for

the farmer. The robot pellet should be a combination of both high quality starch sources and highly digestible non forage fibre sources and should be a very good quality hard pellet. Additionally, the pellet should have some flavour or aroma to encourage intake and embed sensory memories within the cows. The pellet should be very consistent and will likely have some protein sources, minerals and vitamins to enhance cow health, reproduction, and productivity. Feeding a pellet in the robot will obviously increase the purchased feed costs for the farmer and will result in a more expensive ration than the traditional TMR feeding system. By feeding your own homegrown feeds in the robot, the producer can realize huge feed cost savings while still retaining top-end performance. Feeding high moisture corn, roasted beans or some other grain sources can be an effective way to decrease your purchased feed costs and utilize the excess corn that may be in the oversized silo. Feeding your own homegrown feeds will take a higher level of feed management for the producer as high moisture feeds should be replenished often and not allowed to sit for extended periods of time, as spoilage is sure to become a problem. As noted above, the degree of processing with these feed types also needs to be considered. As with any ration formulated by a nutritionist, the management style, production and health goals of the producer need to be considered. Targets for milk production, milk fat test, milking visits per day to the robot and cow health should be discussed and the ration adjusted accordingly to try and meet these objectives. Additionally, different robot management/traffic systems can feed TMRs that are formulated dramatically different to achieve similar cow performance. Free cow traffic tends to feed more concentrate at the robot and less at the feed bunk, while guided cow traffic can work in the opposite manner. We can discuss more on these options in a future article, or one of our highly qualified Grand Valley Fortifiers dairy specialists or professional nutritionists will be happy to review your feeding management with you to help improve your farm’s performance, productivity and profitability. n

Scene &Herd

by Jeff Keunen Ruminant & Robot Nutritionist


ecently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of producers on “Opportunities in Robotic Feeding and Management”. In preparing this presentation, I was able to step back and take stock of the many innovative and interesting inventions that producers have come up with to make their dairy farms more automated and less labour intensive. Regardless of whether the operation has free stalls or tie stalls, robots or parlours, bunks or tower silos, innovation and ingenuity seem to drive these producers forward to make their dairy operation more efficient, improve cow performance and enhance the operation’s overall profitability. On a trip to southern Pennsylvania last fall to visit some robotic milking operations, I was reminded of some innovations to improve cow comfort and performance. With shower heads on the exit lane of the robotic milking units, cows were able to get a cooling shower after milking to help keep them cool in heat stress situations. In addition, this positive reward helped drive traffic to the robot, keeping cow traffic up when one might expect cows to slow and become less productive in hot weather. This innovative farmer also had a very “cow friendly” feed bunk. Feed spaces at the bunk were all set up as individual stanchions that cows could slot themselves into, preventing cow displacement and allowing the animal to eat uninterrupted for as long as she liked. Cows also stepped up onto a raised 2–3 inch rubber padded platform when eating at the bunk, allowing them to rest all four feet comfortably off the concrete while eating, and keeping the feet free from the wet and manure. This platform did not require cleaning and the alley scraper was able to pass by behind the cows while they ate without disturbing them. Hanging finger gates are becoming quite common in robotic milking herds (both free cow traffic and guided traffic barns) as a means to either guide cows through the milking loop or to help collect and sort cows when managers need to work with the cows. These gates are simple, well made and provide little interference within the barn and could be raised or lowered to use as needed in a free stall environment. I could see a fit for these in many free stall barns. Closer to home in Ontario, technology is not taking a back seat. Automatic TMR mixers both on rail track or stationary with conveyor belts help farmers save time and increase accuracy of feeding by mixing feed as often as desired and delivering fresh feed multiple times during the day. These systems can be set up to automatically lower silo unloaders in tower silos, chop hay or straw into the mix, start hammer mills to grind feed and add water if needed. Recently a milk equipment company launched software that will allow the milking units in tie stall barns to talk with the herd management software and these track feeding units to allow for specific feeding or topdressing of cows requiring extra or specialized feed. It is also very interesting to see a growing number of robotic milking farms making use of their own homegrown feeds as a feed ingredient in the robot. This is a philosophy that makes great sense to me as it allows the farmer to feed some highly palatable feed in the robot to entice cows to visit, while significantly reducing purchased feed costs. With all robots having the option to feed multiple feed types,

Dairy Grist homegrown feeds can easily be worked into the robotic feeding system with a little innovation. I have seen high moisture corn, dry corn, roasted beans, and grain mixes all fed successfully. This has all been done with various levels of capital input. It can be a flex auger with a simple grain bin on top of the robot box, or a stainless steel welded unit that augers feed into the feed compartment on the robot or a complete grain bin and flex auger that will hold several tonne of feed. While some farmers are using home grown feeds on farm, others are using the liquid feed option on robots to bring some nutrients or fresh cow treatments to the cows. Liquid molasses seems to be the popular choice for these liquid dispensers. From what the farmers are relaying to me, the level of success is much more variable here. Care must be taken to ensure that the molasses doesn’t settle out and must be kept warm in order to keep the liquid viscous enough to continually flow. When set up properly this can be a highly effective way to encourage cow traffic to the robot, but does not provide any cost savings versus feeding homegrown feeds. I am sure there are many more innovations out there, some of which I have not mentioned in this column, and I am sure there are more to come. Farmers tend to drive innovation forward, coming up with great ideas for their farm operations, that soon catch on and we see in practice industry wide. I look forward to seeing what you have come up with and sharing in your successes while on the road. n



SDA’s March 9th Crop Production report was viewed as slightly negative for soy’s and corn prices as the U.S. ending stocks figures were left unchanged and world ending stocks were lowered slightly. U.S. and world ending stocks figures for wheat were reduced slightly and was called slightly supportive of this commodity. Brazil’s harvest is underway and producers are now selling with recent strength in the USD for the price of this commodity. Argentina port labour disruptions have resulted in a long wait period for ships which could encourage more U.S. business but there’s talk of government intervention to settle it as they prepare to start harvest. The recent run up in the soy futures market has brought the NC corn/soy price spread back into more of a traditional balance. North American SBM offers have strengthened as crushing margins were reported in the red from lower soy oil prices. In North America it’s shaping up to be an early start along with large corn/soy acres for this year’s US crop and recent rains are adding to the potential for an excellent crop. This could create a short term buying opportunity on SBM for those requiring additional coverage. Any adverse growing conditions for this year’s North American crop will lead to very tight soy supplies in the 2012/13 season. Next key USDA reports are the March 30th grain stocks and prospective plantings. The canola meal basis is firming again as seed supply continues tight. DDGS values also continue firm as some North America ethanol plants reduced their grind due to high ethanol inventories resulting in less DDGS output. If you are interested in receiving DSC’s commodity price indication updates, please contact or call 1-877-743-4412. n w w

Automatic Calf Feeders By: Matt Drummond, Dairy Specialist Hometown: Shakespeare, ON Email:


rowing up working around my grandfather’s farm, I remember there being many changes that took place - things were done to make his life easier. At one point I remember asking my Grandpa why he made changes to things that seemed to be working so well. His reply was swift, simple and to the point,“If there is some kind of technology out there that can make your life easier, why not look into it? If it can work on your operation then maybe you should adopt it.” This holds true with all facets of business, including the dairy industry. There has been a switch from component feeding and migration to TMR, tie stalls turned into free stalls, parlours turned into robots. The area of the operation that I want to focus on in this particular article is the automatic calf feeder. When you look at the machine from the calf’s perspective you must think how great it is to get something to eat anytime they want. These calf feeders are the ultimate nanny! From the farmers perspective, it’s great to know that there is something feeding the calves 24-7. It doesn’t call in sick, sleep in or even miss a shift. What a great tool! From my personal experience being on the road, I often hear producers who utilize these calf feeders say, “I won’t give it up” and “I would never go back to hutches again”. This is a true testament to the machine’s usefulness. Before writing this article I discussed with a dairy producer his thoughts on his automatic calf feeder. Without hesitating, Adam spoke about the amount of labour this machine saves him in terms of mixing and feeding the calves, allowing him more time to spend observing his animals and fine tuning his operation. He finds that they are healthier, grow faster and wean a lot easier. This particular customer has been using Bionic® Acidified milk replacer to feed the calves as he saw there were some scouring problems with the calves when he first moved onto the automatic feeder. Since using the new milk replacer, the scour problems are a lot better and the calves seem to be growing better. There are many makes and models of machines out there and to my knowledge they all seem to work very well. They are an investment in your future as these young stock are your milking herd in two years! n


with Chris Meadows Grand Valley Fortifiers Dairy Specialist

Years of Service: 20 Hometown: St. Clements, ON Email:

Q: What ration changes are required when I start milking with my new robotic milking system and what do I need to monitor nutritionally speaking? A: That depends on the type of cow flow you decide to use with your robotic milking system. A free flow traffic system requires that the TMR be balanced for a lower level of milk production than the cows are actually producing and more Eco Lac® RMS Dairy Pellets fed through the robotic feeder with amounts varying depending on milk production. A guided traffic system such as feed first or milk first means that the TMR is balanced to support more milk allowing for a greater use of homegrown grains and commodity type protein sources. In a controlled traffic system, the amount of Eco Lac® RMS Dairy Pellets can be restricted to a lower level in the robotic feeder while still maintaining cow traffic. This approach requires specific computer settings that your Grand Valley Dairy Specialist can assist you with. Regardless of the type of cow traffic flow decided on, dairy pellets are used in the robot to attract cows to use the robotic milker. These pellets need to be very appetizing to the cows to encourage robotic milker use and designed to minimize acidosis. Acidosis needs to be avoided at all costs as sluggish cows won’t use the robot as often as healthy cows. In addition, proper bunk management is essential to prevent sorting, promote cud chewing and maximize forage intake. Dry matters need to be checked on a regular basis. Your Grand Valley Fortifiers Dairy Specialist will be an essential part of your success with robotic milking systems. n

Thought for the Day If you’ve ever watched the ocean you know its waves keep

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rolling into the shore. Sometimes they crash with tremendous

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almighty God from loving you.

force, other times they are very gentle. Either way, they can’t be stopped! Likewise, there is nothing you can do to stop

Wishing you a Blessed Easter and good farming. Sincerely, Jim Ross

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On behalf of all our Grand Valley Fortifiers Family

Dairy Grist 2012 - Spring  

Robot Feeding Tips • Automatic Calf Feeders •

Dairy Grist 2012 - Spring  

Robot Feeding Tips • Automatic Calf Feeders •