The perfect mix

Written by Mark Epp on .

Creating a total mix ration (TMR) is a thing of beauty. If you don’t have a TMR wagon, that’s OK—MFA offers many great complete and limiter feed options for weaning calves, forage extension and protein/energy boosts where the mixing is already done for you. However, if you are an operator with a TMR wagon, it’s likely you recognize many advantages you receive with MFA/AGChoice bases or commodity blends and your local-favorite forages.

The objective in using a TMR vehicle is to deliver a thorough mix of all ingredients to the entire group on feed. A well-mixed ration ensures that every bite has the nutrients you expect to give your investment. Depending on your operation, you may use you TMR wagon every day or just seasonally. No matter how frequently you use it, here is a review of some items to keep in mind to ensuring smooth and reliable feeding.

Maintenance Plan: Depending on use level, have a periodic, recordable plan (or a monthly reminder) to service and inspect the mixer. The Feed equipment require regular maintenance for conisistnant feed.plan should include housekeeping periodically inside the mixer to remove twine/plastic and buildup on the augers. For mixers with hay processing, check for missing or dull blades; auger flighting/paddles/kickplates. Make sure none are bent or missing.
Load cells: If pulling the wagon out of the shed after summer, inspect and test to make sure rodents haven’t damaged wires. If using daily, periodic testing is recommended to assure the right amount is weighed for nutritional consistency and to indemnify ingredient inventory. Try to avoid excessive bouncing of the mixing vehicle which can lead to damage of load cells.

Particle size of forages: Smaller and consistent particle size of forages will enhance mix uniformity and reduce sorting in the bunk. It is important, however, to keep enough forage length to ensure appropriate rumen function and health, particularly for diets that are less than 25 percent effective fiber. The appropriate length of forage is one-half to three-quarters of an inch for most production systems.
Fill order of ingredients: Follow manufacturers recommendations. Be aware of scenarios such as wet co-products (for example, wet distillers grains) added behind ground corn and protein/mineral mix. This can often lead to feed balls containing high levels of protein and mineral.
Inclusion rate of ingredients: Be aware of the size of smaller additive ingredients, such as vitamin and mineral packages. Ensure they can be appropriately mixed throughout the batch. The size will be dependent to match the capacity of the mixer. As a general rule, the smallest additive size should be at least five times the scale accuracy. For example, if the scale weighs in five-pound increments, the minimum addition would be 25 pounds.

Over-fill: Exceeding the mixer’s capacity will create segregated pockets of feed that can float on top of the feed mix and/or get trapped in corners or other voids. These unmixed pockets will not be properly dispersed throughout the batch, thereby altering the nutrient content within the batch. Consequently, the feed being delivered will be inconsistent across the bunk. Dairy cattle typically feed within the same area of the bunk line every day. If the wagon is always over-filled, some may be consistently receiving more nutrients/medication daily, and the balance of the group will be getting below-expected dosages.

Under-fill: Always try to follow the manufacturers recommendation for minimum batch size as too-small batch size may not allow thoroughly mixing.

Mixing time: Establish a consistent and appropriate mixing time to ensure thorough mixing and consistency load to load.

Super magnets on discharge chute: It is amazing what kind of metallic junk you can find on the end of a discharge chute. Having high quality magnets at the discharge is highly recommended to prevent hardware disease. Consistently clean magnets for maximum effectiveness.

To ensure a perfect mix, you can take samples immediately after delivering to the bunk and test for markers such as monensin and minerals such as salt, calcium or magnesium. As a service, ask one your MFA or AGChoice representatives to gather this data for you.

Marc Epp is a ruminant nutritionist serving MFA’s AGChoice locations in Kansas.