Getting the Most Out of Feed Management Software

Sue Hart

Fully implementing a software-based feed management solution ensures the optimal matching of input, labor and production

Sue Hart, Vice President of Marketing at VAS – Valley Ag Software

Feed accounts for more than 60 percent of the cost of milk production — even the slightest variation in the process can swing milk production if inconsistencies and inefficiencies are not addressed.

Today’s feed management software provides the data required to ensure the operation is getting the most out of the high cost of feeding. These solutions also provide actionable data that allows for changes to be made that are then linked directly to milk output to drive new levels of productivity. Here are a few ways that feed management software will impact dairies today.

Building a Long-Term, Automated History of Feeding

One of the simplest and greatest features of feed management software is the ability to track and report the long-term feeding data for any cow, pen or dairy. Sharing this data with veterinarians, nutritionists and consultants helps all stakeholders get a proper perspective on feeding practices, and allows them to make the best recommendations for optimal animal health and output. And, as the software moves to a web-based platform, these partners can be granted access to the data to review it from the comfort of their own office, minimizing travel and hassle.

Ensuring Labor Consistency

Is each pen getting enough food? Too much? Is each pen being fed at the right time each day? If the weekend crew feeds at a later time than the weekday crew, those pens don’t have enough time to process their feed and the output lowers. Feeding is a science, but the science only works if it is properly executed. Feed management software helps track labor performance to ensure that everything, and everybody, works as planned.  

Optimal Inventory Management

Feed management software offers excellent flexibility in how feed inventories are input, whether weighed by each load, input at the time of individual purchase or noted against a contract. Understanding current inventories ensures that new orders are placed on time to meet feeding requirements, that each cow/pen is getting its prescribed mix and that purchased inventory quantities are accurate.

Ensuring Proper Mixing

Today’s feed management software provides a direct link to feed mixers and trucks, and helps automate the mixing process to ensure that each batch is mixed to its specific length of time and consistency, and that the herd gets their prescribed ration. There are two primary pitfalls to improperly mixed feed:

  • If the entire batch of feed isn’t mixed properly, it will result in an uneven distribution of nutrients. A cow at the beginning of the feed may get too much hay, while a cow at the end of the feed may get more grain than is necessary, or vise versa. The first cow and the last cow — and every cow in between — don’t get the same ration.
  • Cows sort out materials that are left too large, such as hay, which means the cow is not getting the prescribed mix of nutrients for optimal milk production.

How important is it to get this part of the process right? We have installed feed management solutions on dairies that address mixing in this way and have seen significant production increases the very next day.

Weighing Dry Matter vs. “As Fed”

Moisture content in feed will vary from region to region/season to season. The higher the moisture content in an “as fed” measurement, the more empty weight (that doesn’t benefit production) the cow ingests. Identifying the amount of moisture in a ration and mixing based on dry matter quantity vs. volume/weight is critical to ensuring each cow gets their intended nutrients.

Understanding the Dairy Production Ecosystem

Feed management software can be tied into other software and data solutions that track milk production to make direct correlations between feeding practices and milk output. This allows the dairy manager to make informed decisions, based on actionable data, that have an immediate impact on production and profitability. It’s important to note that the goal here isn’t to simply lower the cost of feeding through efficiency, but to better understand the correlation between feed and output. For instance, we work with dairies where they have increased their feed cost per head/per day and have seen correlating increases in milk and butter fat production that more than pay for the increase in feed input. Knowledge through data leads to increased profitability.

The Benefit of a Web-Based Solution

The next generation of feed management software, such FeedComp from VAS, brings feed management to web-based solutions that allow dairy and feed managers to access their data from anywhere with a web or cellular connection — in the parlor, at the feed truck or in the field. This allows for real-time decisions that make an immediate impact.

The author is vice president of marketing at VAS – Valley Ag Software – which provides a variety of dairy management software including the ubiquitous DairyComp 305 herd management package.  It is headquartered in Tulare, Calif.  More information is available at www.vas.com