There are many non feed related issues that impact milk production. Studies have shown that 35 % - 50% of non feed issues affect fat corrected milk production. Here are some tools to ensure that non feed related issues are not an issue when evaluating milk production potential.
Penn State Shaker Box
The Penn State Shaker Box will give you insight on whether enough effective fiber is being fed through the diet, particle length, TMR mixing efficiencies and if the cows are likely to sort the ration.
General guidelines for a TMR is 2 - 8% on top screen, 30 - 50% on the second screen, 30 - 50% on the third screen and less than 20% in the bottom pan.
Regardless if you grind or buy ground corn, there will be some variation in fineness.
If the corn is not grounded properly, it will not be used efficiently by the cow.
It is encouraged to take a sample of ground corn and running it through 1/16" screen to see how ground it is.
If more than 90% of ground corn passes through, then the grind is considered excellent.
If 80 - 90% passing, then it is considered very good. 70 - 80% is considered good and anything less than that means it needs improvement.
Feeding corn that is too coarse will result in decreased ruminal starch degradability and potential loss of milk production and decreased feed efficiency.
Feeding too much corn that is ground too fine on that other hand, will result in increased ruminal starch degradability which can potentially result in decreased intake, off-feed issues, milk fat depression and lost milk production.
A thermometer probe can be useful to evaluate forages in bunker or drive over piles, helping to determine if proper packing and feed out steps are taken.
If the face of silage pile is heating, that means there is secondary fermentation and feed is likely going to spoil before reaching the cow.
If silage is heating before it gets to the cow, yeasts and molds are growing and the feed loses its nutritional value.
Safety is the most important when working with silage.
Be very cautious when measuring the temperature of the silage face.
It is safe to scrape and deface the bunker than measure the temperature in loose forage.
Evaluate fecal starch
A composite manure sample can be collected and submitted for lab for evaluation of the fecal starch content.
Fecal starch content should be less than 4 - 5 %.
A 3/16" screen can also be used to wash a manure sample to evaluate the amount of whole or partially digested kernel passing through the manure.
Washed manure is also evaluated for fiber particles.
If longer particles are observed in the manure, the rate of passage out of the rumen might be too fast.
Body condition score
Body condition score is another tool that can give an indication on whether ration is optimal.
Make sure the cows are not losing too much body condition in early lactation or putting too much in late lactation or during dry period.
Body condition score should be evaluated throughout the lactation.