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Enhancing TMR Uniformity and Sorting Resistance through Moisture Addition

May 7, 2024

The goal of a total mixed ration (TMR) is to make a uniform mix of all the ingredients in a ration such that each animal consumes its share of the ingredients in the intended proportions. 

This only works, however, if there is sufficient surface moisture in the mix to hold the ingredients together and prevent them from separating during mixed, as well as being sorted when eaten. 

If the ingredient do not contain sufficient moisture themselves, the solution is to add moisture either directly as water, or indirectly using high moisture ingredients. 

Jaylor H2950 Horizontal Finishing Ration Flowing from Door

The challenge of mixing non-uniform ingredients:

Materials of different shapes and sizes have a natural tendency to separate when mixed together.

Larger and lighter particles tend to move to the top of a mix, while smaller, denser particles tend to sediment or sift to the bottom of a mix when agitated. 

This is what happens when lighter, elongated particles of forage are mixed with the smaller, more spherical and denser particles of grains and supplements, and especially minerals.

This is also why it is important that forages are processed sufficiently to create a dense matrix of particles of varying sizes and shapes within which to entrap the smaller particles and prevent them from being able to separate out of the mix. 

When surface moisture is present, it helps the particles stick together and resist separation.  As the ration becomes drier (e.g. dry hay and grain rations), particle size must become even smaller to ensure a uniform mix and resistance to sorting during eating.

This can either take an excessive amount of mixing time, or be beyond the capability of some equipment. 

In these cases, adding water to the mix can improve forage processing and mix uniformity, as well as resistance to sorting during eating.  But first, how much water should one add? 

Standard feedlot testing protocols: 

The feedlot above was using what has become standard practice for many feedlots when testing mix(er) uniformity; that is, evaluating the variation in concentration of a medication, or a specific premix mineral such as calcium, among a series of samples from a given batch of feed collected along the length of the feed-bunk(s) into which it was fed out. 

The problem with basing one’s conclusions regarding the performance of a mixer solely on such a test, is that the method of adding the ingredient may have more effect on the results than the performance of the mixer itself. 

In the above example, the medicating ingredient was being added as a liquid in an amount that volumetrically amounted to less than 0.2% of the total mix. Often, such small amounts of liquids are added so quickly that only a comparatively small amount of feed is coated.  Those individual coasted particles must then be dispersed uniformly, both horizontally and vertically, to achieve a uniform concentration within the mix. 

The more an ingredient is concentrated and deposited in a small area within a mixer, the more mixing time it will take for it to be uniformly disbursed throughout a mix. 

And even then, concentrations of medications and premix nutrients (i.e. minerals) are not reliable indicators of mix uniformity of main ingredients such as grains and forages 

Forage and concentrate testing: 

Supplemental feeding can be used to extend grazing capacity, as well as the on-farm forage supplies. 

  • Grazing supplementation:  Adverse weather conditions can not only decrease winter feed supplies, but also forage available for grazing, leading either to over-grazing, or the need to start winter feeding earlier.  An alternative is to supply a portion of the nutritional requirements through supplemental feeding on pasture, enabling one to continue grazing for the normal amount of time without negatively impacting animal performance or future pasture productivity.  Supplemental feeding can also be used to successfully grazing alternative forage sources such as crop residues. 
  • Consider limit feeding:  The traditional method of feeding beef cattle is to let the animals eat a given quality of forage more-or-less to appetite.  An alternative, it to formulate a more concentrated ration based on a reduced amount forage plus concentrates, and then feed a limited amount per head on a daily basis, ensuring that all animals can eat at the same time to get their respective share.  This is often a more cost-effective way of feeding when the nutritional cost of concentrates is less than that of forages. 

The value of a TMR mixer: 

The ability to take advantage of alternative feeding opportunities when forage availability is decreased is often limited by the feeding method(s) used.  When forages and concentrates are fed separately, waste increases dramatically as forage quality declines and unfamiliar sources are introduced, whereas manual grain feeding may be laborious and uniform intake is hard to achieve. 

It is at times like this that owning a vertical TMR mixer is particularly appreciated and cost-effective. 

An appropriately sized TMR mixer permits one to blend forages of differing quality and palatability, along with the desired types and amounts of concentrates, to make rations that are appropriate for feeding any type of situation, from supplementation on pasture to limit feeding during winter, while minimizing waste. 

In the past, the size and cost of vertical TMR mixers tended to be beyond the needs of cow-calf producers with smaller herds.  Recently, Jaylor has introduced two “mid-size” models that should be ideal for smaller cow-calf producers: the Jaylor 5150 and the Jaylor 5275 (see Figure). 

The Jaylor 5150 is a single auger, vertical mixer, with 150 cubic foot (cu. ft.) capacity (200 cu. ft. with extension) that is capable of processing 4×4 round bales (up to about 500 lbs.) and mixing up to 5,000 lbs. of feed, with only a 35 horsepower tractor. 

The Jaylor 5275 is a single auger, vertical mixer, with 300 cubic foot (cu. ft.) capacity (350 cu. ft. with extension) that is capable of processing up to 4×5 round bales (up to about 1000 lbs.) and mixing up to 8,500 lbs. of feed, with only a 45 horsepower tractor. 

If producers have larger bales than the mixers can handle whole, a portion of the bale can be added to the mixer.  This can be done using a bale shear, or facilitated by partially precutting the forage during baling. 

It is during times of drought and forage shortages that many beef producers try a TMR mixer for the first time. Most are amazed at the cost savings and improvements in performance that are realized; I do not know of any that returned to their previous ways …“Because Nutrition Matters™”. 

Dr. Alan Vaage is a Ruminant Nutritionist with over 30 years of experience in the beef industry, and currently provides technical support for Jaylor Fabricating Inc., Orton, Ontario.  Dr. Vaage can be contacted by email: 

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Dr. Alan Vaage
Dr. Alan Vaage is a Ruminant Nutritionist with over 30 years of experience in the beef industry, and currently provides technical support for Jaylor. Dr. Vaage can be contacted by email: