How consistent is the ration you are feeding? Inconsistencies can set cattle up for nutritional issues or lead to disappointment when performance suffers. Either outcome has economic consequences. Mixing efficacy, or lack thereof, can have just as much impact on the outcome of the ration as the formulation.
Ultimately, the main goal of mixing a ration is to blend ingredients in a way that delivers the same amount of ingredients and nutrients to every animal in each bite of every feeding. Evaluating variation in nutrient or ingredient levels is one of the most cost-effective and reliable means of monitoring ration consistency.
To evaluate ration consistency, collect five samples from the bunk, spaced evenly from the beginning through the end of distribution. These samples should be collected as soon as possible of delivery to the bunk, and sample collection should be replicated across three to five separate batches or feedings.
If possible, follow the mixer through feedout. Avoid collecting samples after cattle have had time to eat, as the results obtained from these samples will mislead you to believe there is an issue with mixing efficacy when there may not be.
Once the samples have been collected, they should be submitted to a laboratory for analysis. Sodium, crude protein and fiber—either neutral detergent fiber or acid detergent fiber—are often used as markers.
Another marker often used is an ionophore, such as Rumensin or Bovatec, or a micronutrient such as a specific vitamin or trace mineral with a known target concentration. It is usually cheaper to test for sodium, which is added in a relatively large amount from a single source. The sodium content in plant materials will be low and have little variation.
If there is an issue with ration uniformity, it can usually be addressed by troubleshooting the source and uniformity of ingredients, level of ingredients, order of ingredient addition to the mixer and mixing times.
A problem with mixing efficacy, whether it’s undermixing or overmixing, is most commonly caused by adding ingredients in a sequence that does not allow them to blend sufficiently. Often, the order of addition is based on convenience rather than the kinetics of blending. If the goal is to create a uniform ration, ingredients should be included in the right order and blended for the amount of time necessary to disperse throughout the entire mixture without causing them to re-segregate or settle.
This is a fairly complex topic dependent upon a combination of many factors. But for now, consider the physical characteristics and inclusion level of each ingredient and how that may contribute to ease or difficulty of dispersion throughout the ration. The ingredients together should be more similar rather than less similar.
One of the most common areas of concern is the dispersion of micro-ingredients, such as drugs or other additives. If lack of dispersion of these ingredients is leading to a high level of variation, first consider the level of inclusion. It is nearly impossible for most mixers to disperse a very small amount of these ingredients throughout a batch without a micro-machine. If this is the issue, and a micro-machine is not an option, premixing is likely the solution.
Indeed, both Rumensin and Bovatec labels suggest making a premix first. It follows that micro-ingredients, those used at less than 1 percent of the mass, should first be mixed and then blended with a carrier. Nutritionists usually prefer the premix be formulated for inclusion at approximately 5 percent to increase the likelihood of consistent and complete dispersion.
Also, check the scales to ensure that they are accurate. If they are, then ensure the correct amount of each ingredient is being added and the ration does not call for an amount more precise than you can measure or effectively add to the mixer. Rations should be formulated only to that degree of precision that can be achieved. Small inconsistencies can have a substantial effect on uniformity.
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