Feeding cows: people power

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On dairy farms, the change of seasons often involves changes to the feeding system, such as supplying different forages, setting up transition feeding for springers or possibly moving towards a partial mixed ration as part of the farm's long term business development.

This involves adjustments to the daily routine. Dr Pauline Brightling who manages The People in Dairy program for Dairy Australia has some tips for preparing the team to get the best out of your feeding system.

"Changes to the feeding system introduce new tasks, different work routines and potential safety hazards. As well as managing the finances and the cows, you also need to prepare your team for the changes needed for an effective system," Dr Brightling said.

The people who do the day-to-day work have a powerful influence over the effectiveness of a feeding system.

Preparation is the key to making the most of your ‘people power.' Dr Brightling suggests preparation should cover four key areas: reviewing work schedules, monitoring the feeding system, training for new skills and prioritising safety.

Work schedules

With a pasture-based system the workload is focussed on activities such as irrigating, fertilising and moving cows. With a partial or total mixed ration (PMR or TMR) less time is spent on these activities with the focus moving to feed preparation and delivery to cows.

In reviewing the work routine, you may also need to re-think roles and responsibilities.

"Discuss changes to the work schedule with the team. Their input will be important if they are to see the changes as a different way of doing things, rather than more work. Think about ways to fit tasks in with the milking routine so there is little extra work to be done."

For example, it may be possible to organise a roster that avoids too much feed delivery on weekends or at night," she said. 

Monitoring the system

When changes are made to the feeding system, regular monitoring is important to ensure the system is effective and efficient, and to keep track of feed availability.

With a TMR or PMR, monitoring wastage is a priority. With pastures, it's important to monitor grazing residues.

"It is important to have effective ways for different members of the team to keep track of what's happening and make adjustments when needed. Whiteboards, log books and other written records work well on many farms."

New skills

Before making changes to the feeding system think about the different skills involved and the training needed for team members. This is also a good time to prepare written standard operating procedures and to take the time to ensure that team members understand each task.

Prioritise safety

Occupational health and safety must be a top priority on a dairy farm. Before changing the feeding system, check the equipment is safe and suitable for the purpose. Check your staff can identify the hazards and minimise the risks associated with different machinery. Make sure they know what to do if something goes wrong.

When planning for changes to the feeding system, Dr Brightling suggests following the ‘keep it simple' principle.

"There is often a worthwhile compromise between what is technically the best system and what you can implement simply. The choices you make can make the difference between you being able to get off the farm readily for a break or being tied to the farm because you are the only one who can do the job right," she said.