Let’s explore the benefits of vertical TMR (Total Mixed Ration) mixers for feeding beef cows during different stages of the production cycle.
(Updated Nov 9, 2023) Due to the high cost of forage, and feed production in general, as well as ever decreasing profit margins, cow-calf producers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of owning a TMR mixer, especially a “vertical” TMR mixer that is capable of processing baled forages to decrease feed waste and increase animal performance.
Forage selection meets requirements, but creates waste:
Beef cattle have a limited capacity to consume forage fiber to meet their nutritional requirements, and thus have an instinctive drive to compete for the most palatable and nutrient rich feed available. This selection behavior also acts to ensure the nutritional composition of the consumed feed is sufficient to meet requirements when the average composition of the feed is insufficient, as is often the case when “beef quality” hay is fed.
Fortunately, most baled forage contains a mix of plants with a range of maturity and nutritional value. Furthermore, among the plants, leaves tend to have higher nutritional value than the stems; this is especially true for alfalfa (Table). By avoiding the coarser, lower quality material (older plants and stems) and concentrating on consuming younger and leafy material, individual animals “re-balance” the feed offered into a diet that meets, or even exceeds, their immediate nutritional requirements. The lower quality material is left behind as waste.
Meeting needs with a TMR mixer:
Moving from free-choice forage feeding to TMR feeding transfers the responsibility for “balancing the ration” from the cow to the producer, as the goal of using a TMR mixer is to minimize the ability of the animal to select or sort the feed ingredients. Thus, for optimal TMR feeding it is important for all ingredients, and especially from different fields and cuttings, to be analyzed for nutritional composition. In many areas feed company representatives or extension agents are happy to assist with this step, which is recommended even if feeding baled forages free-choice.
Once the forages have been analyzed, bales that are nutritionally the most appropriate for feeding to a group of animals at any given stage of production can be selected and combined to make a mix that meets the requirements of the animals. With a vertical mixer, they are then processed down to a particle size that will minimize sorting and selection and fed out in a way that will ideally permit all animals to eat at the same time, with a minimum of ground loss (e.g. simple stationary or moveable feeders). In this way one can expect almost complete consumption of the bales that are fed.
To improve efficiency further, one can formulate a mix at about 110% of requirements and then restrict feeding to 90% of the normal intake. As long as the cows can all eat at the same time, rate of eating will be increased and the potential for waste essentially eliminated due to competition, even with ground feeding.
If the quality of the forage is less than required, cost-effective energy and/or protein supplements can be added to meet requirements and make efficient use of the poorer quality forages. If forage quality is greater than needed, it can be diluted with poorer quality forage such as straw, or limit fed according to requirements, to minimize cost and prevent waste.
This demonstrates one of the greatest benefits of a TMR mixer, its scale system, which enables accurate weighing and batching of ingredients, and delivery of feed according to nutritional requirement. It provides the first requirement for improving nutritional and economic performance, for as it’s often said “if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.
In summary, a vertical TMR mixer can virtually eliminate the costly waste and performance limitations of feeding forage as bales, potentially reducing forage needs by up to 50%.
Though this may seem high, it is the number most often quoted by Jaylor customers that switch to using a TMR mixer for feeding beef cows. TMR feeding creates a more uniform nutritional intake across the herd, and in doing so can be expected to increase both health and performance of the cow-calf herd … Because Nutrition Matters.
Unless sufficient forage is provided, more of the coarse material will be consumed, at the expense of meeting nutritional requirements, and reproductive and growth performance suffer. Assuming nutritional requirements are to be met, it will take an increasing amount of waste to meet requirements as forage quality declines, up to one-third when feeding full bloom alfalfa (Table). Levels of waste with grass hays can be even greater because of a smaller difference in quality between leaves and stems in grasses versus alfalfa.
When forage selection losses are combined with palatability losses due to weathering and mold, as well as ground losses due to feeding method, it is easy to see how overall, nutritional waste from bale feeding easily ranges from 30 to 50 percent. Further losses occur due to variable intake between animals which reduces aggregate reproductive and growth performance; this will be discussed in a subsequent article.
Table: Alfalfa composition by stage of maturity, and feeding rate required to permit animals to equalize intake TDN composition by selecting against consuming stems.
|Stage of maturity
|Leaf TDN (%DM)
|Stem TDN (%DM)
|Total TDN (%DM)
|Feed Rate (% Bud)
Adapted from scientific literature.
Animals cannot respond to decreasing forage quality by increasing intake.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in American Cattlemen, March 2014 issue. It has been updated for accurateness and adapted to this format.