In order to optimise the health and milk production of dairy cows, it is important to ensure the cows maintain sufficient nutrient intake to meet their requirements.
Although it is important to have high quality diets, it does not mean that the cows will always get the most value from that feed. This is due to the way cows eat and ruminate their food.
The way cows eat directly impacts how much they consume as well as their rumen health and digestion.
The amount of food cows eat can be formulated by the number of meals consumed a day x the size of those meal (mass per meal).
One way to maximise the food intake is by spending more time at the bunk with more frequent smaller meals as opposed to eating large, faster meals.
Maximising time spent at bunk with smaller meals also helps to keep the rumen stable, improve digestibility and milk fat content.
Importance of Time
Cows will rely on rumination to digest food.
Food particles are broken down into smaller pieces during rumination. This will make it faster for digested feed to be removed from rumen, allowing more feed to be consumed.
Hence, maximising time for rumination will the cows' feed intake.
During rumination, cows produce saliva, which contains bicarbonate, a substance that will help to reduce the acidity levels in rumen.
How To Maximise Time?
Firstly, it is important to have a well balanced diet with sufficient effective fibre to promote slower consumption and longer rumination times.
Next, we also need to ensure that the cows are stimulated to access their feed throughout the day and they have the time to ruminate their feed.
From studies, it is shown that delivering new feed creates much more of a feeding response as compared to time of day, milking or pushing up of feed.
It is also encouraged to deliver fresh feed as often as feasible across the day.
Another important thing to take note between feed deliveries, is to ensure that the cows always have access to feed in the bunk.
Bunk space also affects feeding behaviour. It is encouraged to provide enough bunk space so taht all cows can eat comfortably at the same time.
Time spent ruminating is largely affected by the type of diet as well as the amount consumed.
Most of the rumination activity occurs while resting at night or during the middle of the day when the cows are resting.
Hence, maximising the rest time is important to optimise rumination.
In order to do this, provide stalls sufficiently sized to allow the cows to lie down and stand up without much trouble and have enough comfortable lying surface for the cows.
Minimising heat stress will also increase rumination time.
Feed consumption, digestion efficiency and milk production are optimised when cows can maximise their time eating and rumination. In order to achieve this, it is important to provide cows with a well balanced diet, sufficient feed in front of them so that they can access them any time, are stimulated to access feed throughout the day and having enough time to rest with ample bunk space.