FeedingSignals: the cows say it all

FeedingSignals: the cows say it all

Feeding perfect rations is only possible when you understand feed analysis, the properties of the feed, the way a cow functions and her milk production. The concept 'FeedingSignals' looks at all these aspects: from mouth to rumen and intestines. In this article we touch on a few things to consider when using this concept.

Feeding signals, developed in the Netherlands, is a very practical concept starting at the cow itself. By looking at the animal and its surroundings you can pick up a
lot of signals that can help you in making the right management decisions. What do they need to be productive, fertile and healthy? And how do you achieve and check on a daily base they get what they need? To be able to answer these questions it is therefore important to learn to read the signals of raw materials, feeding, feeding behaviour
and digestion.

Know your three rations

Knowledge about the rations gives you many feeding signals. In practice, people often talk of the three rations that are fed. The first one is the calculated ration. This is a starting point, success is created during feeding and in the barn. As a proof of this, Spanish researchers, Dr Alex Bach et al., compared 47 herds with the same genetics and exactly the same ration composition, to find that average milk production varied from 21 to 34 kg per cow per day. The second ration is what is truly delivered at the feed bunk. And the third ration is what every cow actually eats. As long as you don't adjust it, the calculated ration is always correct. Computers don't make mistakes. However, people do make mistakes, because they focus on getting the work done and doing the job as they are used to doing it. If people understand the results they achieve
with their work, they do a far better job and enjoy it much more. Feeding cows is not about loading feed and driving it into a cow shed. It is about presenting every cow a mix of feedstuffs that she wants to eat. And every time you feed this ration it should be as close to the calculated ration as possible.

Fault margin of 20%

Observing and measuring may sound time-consuming and often, dairy farmers get caught in routines and don't want to do 'extra' work. At the same time, because of the routine on a daily basis, they forget to question if they are still doing the right things in the right way at the right moment. Do you know how much dry matter your cows eat at this
moment? If not, you already have a fault margin in your ration of up to 20% (+/- 2 kg dry matter/day). You should also take quality loss into account. Silage and feedstuffs can change over time regarding digestibility, nutritional values and palatability. Do you check on a regular base if a specific feedstuff still has the nutritious value you work with? A quality check like this should be done at least once a week. It is important that applying these measurements and implementing the feeding signals concept is also
done by other staff at the farm.

Check the empty rumen

Every cow should spontaneously and without any stress eat 12 meals per day. If you can achieve this, the cow can perform at its best. One of the FeedingSignals is to check if all cows can eat at the same time. Next, it is important to check if all the cows have eaten well, during various moments in the day. To test this, you use the rumen fill. If you notice that some cows have not eaten enough, try to find out what is causing this. The quality of the manure is also a good feeding sign. Manure consistency and digestion rate should be at the desired level: a flat yet formed manure pad. Smooth, like a paste, with no long fibres in it.

Source: AllAboutFeed.net

Comments (5)


i totally agree with this.

Anouk Brinkhoff

Iain wrote:
i totally agree with this.

Great :)


We also should considering to look at the 4 ration. What cow did not digest. Thats mean, we should randomly check the manure.
What I find most interesting is, that cows dont know how to lie. We should remember that.

Grace Smith

The majority of farms I visit do not have sufficient feed space. Does anyone have any quick solutions to improve this?

Joep Driessen

Grace Smith wrote:
The majority of farms I visit do not have sufficient feed space. Does anyone have any quick solutions to improve this?


First of all: feed and spread out feed over whole length of feeding table... 24 hrs per day access!

England had many cheap solutions:
Feeding carts ( trough on wheels) with access on 4 sides, outside on concrete platform!
( disadvantage is the extra work for cleaning floor and trough)

Enlarge feeding table outdoors in the same line!

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