Modernizing feed mills

robot stacker

Feed and Grain, a business-to-business magazine that covers the feed market has a nice feature on the updates and upgrades MFA has installed in the Mexico, Mo. feed mill. The story explains how a new bagging system and robot bag stacker has increased throughput for the facility and helped to reduce working injury.

MFA’s new bagging system delivered on the promise of a 33% reduction in the overall plant labor/labor efficiency gains; the 50% reduction in overall shrink, the loss related to packaging; and a 20% increased throughput rate.

“Technology enhances your competitiveness. As other costs tend to go up, you need to find ways to minimize expenses where you can and improve efficiencies,” says Alan Wessler, vice president of MFA’s feed division.


Read the whole thing here.

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Herdsman is on the way

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at a new offering that's on the way at your local MFA location. A couple times per year, MFA retail managers bring agricultrual vendors into a trade-show setting. Managers from across MFA's territory gather to work with the vendors to attain volume pricing and other forms of buyer savings. Those products then work through the cooperative to your farm. herdsman booth

At the August Buyers' Market, the Herdsman brand made its debut to MFA. Herdsman is a joint venture among several cooperatives who pool their buying power to get high-quality farm supply products at a reasonable price. Herdsman fencing products are first to hit the MFA system.

The Herdsman brand was conceived by farm product buyers at Tennessee Farmers. Participating cooperatives include: Tennessee Farmers, Alabama Farmers, MFA Incorporated, Heritage Trading and Intermountain Farmers Association. As buyers from these cooperatives negotiate deals with manufacturers, more Herdsman products will be available.

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Time to test your hay

[Photo:Krystle Fleming via CC/Flicker]

In any number of producer meeting that I have been to, I have held up a feed sample and a $20 bill. I tell the audience what the feed sample is and the expected range of TDN. Then I tell them that the first correct guess gets the $20.  Everyone only gets one guess though—otherwise someone would guess 0-100 and claim the bill, similar to buying out a lottery. 

I have never had anyone win the $20.


A better deal would be to say that a player pays a dollar for a guess. I’d potentially make more money. The point of the exercise is that if we do not test our feeds and forages, we are, in effect, guessing at the nutrient concentration.

We would be happy to guess for the $20 when guessing doesn’t have a cost. But not knowing the feed value of hays, grains or silage has a huge cost—we will either over feed or under feed the animals.


What could be better than free hay? That might sound like a rhetorical question, such as, "What could be better than watching  a monster truck jumping a row of motorcycles?" Well, it would be cooler to see it done whilst the motorcycles were ablaze, or if the driver was blindfolded.


No such drama in the barn lot, but not dropping animal performance would be better than free hay.  Consider the data of Kawas et al out of WI. They compared different hays as to the amount of the hay a milk cow ate and her milk production.

While the milk-cow comparison might not be aples to apples with your beef herd, the results show that cows—and your feed costs—respond to hay qaulity.

The Wisconsin study  fed cows from high to low levels of concentrate and from high to low hay quality.  Using dairy quality hay, (RFV >150) at $120/ton gives better income over feed cost than does using free ($0.00/ton) beef cow quality hay (RFV <100).  Using the production data of Kawas, given typical feed situations, low quality hay can’t be cheap enough to feed; it can't be so cheap as to not be worth evaluating. Knowing the hay quality allows for appropriate usage and supplementation.


I've pasted the contrasts using the numbers from the University of WI.  The entire abstract is found in the papers presented at the 1983 American Dairy Sci Association meeting.

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It’s Vitamin E for essential

In bovine health, much like our own, we defend against free radicals with antioxidants

All animals require antioxidants. The effectiveness of alpha tocopherol “vitamin E” as an antioxidant is associated with the prevention of cell degradation (technically: lipid peroxidation) in animals.

However, a few researchers have interpreted the low peroxide level of tissue lipids in animals receiving supplemental E as due to the inhibition of absorption of oxidized fatty acids from the intestinal tract.

Suffice it to say that vitamin E is the principle membrane-associated antioxidant molecule in mammals. It plays a major role in preventing oxidative damage to cell membrane lipids by scavenging free radicals.

I could stack up some more 50-cent words to explain the various chemical properties of vitamin E, and that might intrigue biochemists, but let’s just say that the many flavors of vitamin E are sort of like socks: even if they are miss matched, they still fit and work as socks.

Absorption and transport

Vitamin E is hydrophobic and is absorbed similarly to other dietary fats-lipids. If you need to feed high levels of vitamin E, you want to ensure adequate fat in the diet—otherwise vitamin E absorption is reduced.

After solubilization by bile acids, vitamin E is absorbed in the small intestine. It moves into the blood stream from there.

Once in circulation, much of the vitamin E is taken up by the liver and repacked into very low density lipoproteins, then pushed into blood to circulate through the animal’s vascular system. Ultimately, vitamin E is transported in blood bound to a variety of lipoproteins, from which it is taken up by tissues throughout the body. Vitamin E is stored within energy-storing fat.

Physiologic effects

The claim to fame of vitamin E is as an antioxidant. In other words, it is a scavenger of free radicals. Free radicals are generated by numerous processes within cells and have the ability to damage cell membranes, proteins and nucleic acids.

Vitamin E is at the forefront of the body’s homeland security defense forces to prevent oxidative damage by free radical terrorists. Due to its fat solubility, vitamin E is particularly important in protecting cell membranes.

Vitamin E levels in manufactured feeds

An ongoing discussion is how much vitamin E should be fed. There is a difference between nutrient requirements and nutrient recommendations. The requirement is the quantity the animal needs to prevent nutritional disease; the recommendation is the amount that we target to feed based on the current objectives. Because some things seem to work better, say feeding 1,000 units of E to dry cows, we often recommend the practice.

For dry cows on vegetative grass pastures, diet vitamin E content will be very high, well exceeding animal requirements. So you might wonder why I’d recommend additional vitamin E in the diet. I’d make the recommendation because things go better when we feed 1,000 units of E to dry cows compared to feeding 0 units. It’s an ounce of prevention and pound of harm scenario.

In the 1980s, it was fairly common to daily feed about 300 units of vitamin E to milk cows, and 10 to 50 units to beef cows.

Now days we often see milk cows and finishing cattle take 1,000 units of E per day, while beef cows and growing cattle get about 50 to 100 units.

The vitamin E load on dry milk cows will vary from none to 8,000 units a day, with the expected level closer to a tick over 1,000.

To demonstrate this effect, consider the trial done by Dr. Weiss and colleagues at Ohio. They held selenium constant at 0.1 ppm, then fed dry dairy cows different levels of vitamin E, measuring incidence of mastitis.

Deficiency and toxicity

Vitamin E deficiency has been associated with a number of problems:

• Impaired fertility
• Muscle disease, nutritional myopathy (white muscle disease)
• Degeneration of central nervous system and peripheral nerves
• Accelerated destruction of blood cells

There are any number of reports that have fed cows thousands of units of vitamin E a day for months at a time. The current calculations are that chronic vitamin E toxicity in dairy cows would to be at least 80,000 units a day for weeks on end. That corresponds to 4 pounds per day of vitamin E 20,000. To kill a cow with vitamin E, the way to whack her with the smallest requisite amount of vitamin E, would likely be to drop a pallet of vitamin E on her head.

All MFA manufactured feeds, other than commodity blends #44131 or #44161 are fortified with vitamin E.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

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Grazing season is here

Think about behavior to get the most from your grass

Forage quantity and quality are important factors in determining grazing animal performance. So as a livestock producer, you need reliable indicators of forage status. Direct measures of vegetation—clipping and weighing—can be useful to estimating the total amount of forage available.
That said, only a fraction of the total amount of forage present is useful to a grazing animal. In management systems where forage is managed for high quality and high yield and allocated on a daily basis (intensive grazing systems), forage utilization is higher than in other management systems. In less intensive systems, the forage you measure is less predictive of what the animals are eating. In those situations, the behavior of grazing animals can be used as an indicator of the quantity and quality of the forage on offer.

Consider a pasture where there are grasses of similar heights, but patches with different amounts of leaf to stem; these patches will likely be eaten at different rates and with different bite sizes. So while it might be tricky to directly relate grazing behavior to the forage quality and quantity, animal behavior can be a useful indicator. It’s similar to feeding energy according to body condition and protein to manure consistency.
When our bovine self-propelled forage harvesters are out harvesting, they are:
• searching for forage;
• selecting forage;
• grasping and pulling the selected forage into their mouths.

Unless forage is too short, cattle tend to wrap their tongues around forage and pull it into their mouths. The cow grabs forage between the upper and lower molars or the lower incisors and the upper dental pad, then she jerks back her head to sever the plant. This is why you get that recommendation to allow seedings to become firmly established before grazing. Soft ground and inadequately rooted plants are easily pulled up by grazing cattle.
Compared to sheep or goats, cattle have wide mouths with stiff upper lips; they eat large clumps. Cows are less selective than sheep or goats. As a result, they have a more difficult time selecting leaves off of woody forbes or young vegetation in a stand. And when cattle are carefully selecting, they need to reduce bite size and bite speed. That means cattle selecting a higher quality diet will spend more time grazing. Coincidentally, because goats and sheep need less total food, they have more time per unit of body size and better ability to be selective. These differences in ability to select have been used to correlate the preferred forage material of cattle, goats and sheep.

When grazing animals move into a traditional, rotationally grazed new pasture, they often move around the boundaries before actually moving into the pasture. Cattle tend to move in straight lines between points during grazing, while sheep tend to move parallel to fence lines.

Question: What plants do I select for pasture? And why do so many goats hate clover?
Young animals learn what to eat and what to avoid from older grazing animals. The strongest learning bond is between the dam and offspring. Learning from the dam begins during gestation with exposure to flavors through amniotic fluid. Subsequently the offspring will consume aromatic-flavor compounds in the milk.

Animals learn from experience. Grazing animals tend to sample new forages in small quantities. If an animal doesn’t like the forage, for whatever reason, the animal will either avoid that forage or limit the amount it eats.
Taste is more important than color. I have heard that cattle will not eat mineral that is not red. Not true. Cattle see on the monochromatic scale; they see shades of grey, not color.

Where animals graze
In pastures with uniform plant composition, day-to-day cattle movement is not by chance. Cattle rarely are observed in the same location for more than 2 consecutive days. In pastures where forage quantity and quality vary, observations indicate that cattle may not return to sites with low quality forage for as long as three weeks.

What do grazing animals want? Most cattle want to be bored; beyond that it seems that grazing animals are looking for succulent plant material. Their first preference is new green leaves. When new green leaves are not present, the animals will eat older green leaf material followed by green stems, then dry leaves and finally dry stems. Nutritional wisdom theory holds that cattle intentionally or instinctively select forage based on the content of protein, energy or other nutrients. I do not hold to nutritional wisdom theory in that it doesn’t explain to me why cattle eat dirt or sericea lespedeza.

This affinity for green plant material remains until almost no green is left. This chasing green material is used to explain why cattle often lose body condition during spring green-up. Their preference for new growth causes “flash grazing”—they are seeking out plants that they consider palatable.

Forage availability and how it influences grazing

Forage availability is not simply the amount of plant material growing in a pasture. Forage availability refers to the part of the plant material that a grazing animal will choose to eat and is able to access.

Cattle can be selective regarding the species of grasses they eat. Dr. DelCurto’s group in Oregon looked at grazing studies with mixed species pastures. It was reported that 80 percent of the diet was of a grass that made up only 6 percent of standing forage, but that grass was in vegetative stage. Preferred forages tend to have a much higher probability of being grazed (having more bites removed during each visit) and of being grazed again before other forages are depleted.

Less time is spent grazing when forage is plentiful and quality is good; more time is spent grazing when quantity or quality is limited. Cattle spend more time grazing when stocking rates are high, pasture is short, or when the standing crop is made up of plant species that differ in the amount of leaf material produced.

The demand or high selectivity for limited green material can increase grazing time. In studies under two different grazing levels, grazing time increased when limited green material was available. It seems that if green material is present, grazing animals will spend more time searching for it and will stop grazing earlier when mature forage is limiting.

Group behavior as an indicator

Cattle in small herds in small pastures will stay together. It is normal for animals in large herds to be dispersed. On smooth, level, flat or gently rolling land, cattle will graze in groups of 20 to 30 animals. If the topography is rugged, group size is more like 6 to 10. As forage availability increases, size of grazing group does too. When the amount of preferred forage decreases, cattle are forced to predate other types of plants. When cattle are forced to turn to browse, they eat less because they are not physically equipped to select leaves as effectively as grasses.

Patch grazing

Sometimes, close and repeated grazing of small patches or individual plants occurs while adjacent patches or individual plants of the same species are left ungrazed or lightly grazed. This patch grazing is prevalent on sites with high plant density and productivity and with species with fair palatability. Sites that are ungrazed one year tend to be ungrazed the next year also. The development of ungrazed patches in summer depends mostly on the patches not being grazed at the beginning of the season. The way to manage this is by either mowing or intensive and heavy early season stocking. Dr. Owensby at Kansas State studied intensive early season stocking. He found that large ungrazed plants develop if the start of grazing in the spring is delayed too long.

Cattle are more sensitive to the presence of their fecals than are sheep. Goats are intermediate to cattle and sheep. Animal fecals cause ungrazed patches. Urine tends to cause only an initial aversion. Cattle tend to avoid forage adjacent to fecals. Forage areas that are avoided can be several times as large as the area covered by the fecal material. In a situation of heavy stocking rate under continuous grazing, avoided areas can cover significant portions of a pasture. This effect can last for several months.

Best time of day to hand feed on pasture

The time of day when supplemental feed is offered affects grazing behavior and animal performance. Stocker steers have greater ADG when fed in early afternoon compared to those fed in early morning. Steers fed in early morning were fed during a major grazing period and the disturbance of normal grazing resulted in lower performance because steers did not resume grazing for 2 to 4 hours after supplemental feeding.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

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