Can Computers Feed Your Cattle?

Gary Hay  |  10/4/2004 4:25:35 AM

Moor’s Law states that the power of computers doubles every 18 months. Remarkably, the law has held true since 1965 and shows no hint of slowing. While power increased, the cost of the technology decreased (not ever inflation adjusted), which has allowed computers to touch many aspects of daily life.


In the 1980’s and 90’s, the computer revolution hit the dairy market. Computer feeders were supposed to revolutionize the industry by customizing a grain allotment for each cow in a herd. Many of them could supposedly link to milk meters and automatically adjust a cow’s grain allotment. In practice, this did not work. Adjustments needed periodic review and grain consumption reports required daily evaluation. New advances, however, have improved the integration of computers into feeding programs.


Now, most ration formulation is completed by computers. Numerous software products have been developed to assist nutritionist in matching feedstuffs to nutrient requirements for particular production settings. They can estimate nutrient supply from a diet and reports how well a given diet meets the requirements for the animal specified.


These reports assume that feeding management is able to match what is on paper with what actually is presented to the cow. They further assume that what is presented to the cow is the same as what is consumed. We all know that both of these assumptions are incorrect. More often that not, small errors in measuring quantities of feeds result in rations that differ significantly from what was planned. Even when we are extremely careful in delivering exactly what was planned, cows have an ability to sort feeds and only consume the portions that they want.


As a manager of nutrition programs, your goal should be to minimize the differences between what the computer recommends and what your cows consume. There are a few areas, that when carefully monitored, will greatly improve your ability to complete this task. 

  • Make sure that the scales on your equipment are calibrated If you need to provide 50 lb of feed for each cow but your scale weighs 5% heavy (your scale says that you have 50 lb of feed when you really have 47.5 lb) you are indirectly limiting intake. 
  • Check your math when scaling the computer recommendation from one cow to your herd. When you multiply the amounts of feed by the number of cows in your herd, don't forget to properly convert the amounts of micro ingredients like mineral supplements from ounces to pounds.
  • Minimize the ability of your cows to sort the feed. Grains should be similarly processed to prevent mixing. If you have forage in the ration, the grains must mix mix with them with a minimum of separation. Adding a little water added to the ration can also help prevent separation. Cleaning out the bunk should prevent spoiled feed from accumulating.

By paying attention to these details, you will minimize the differences between what a computer recommends and what your cows eat. When this is accomplished, you will see that a computer can’t feed your cows, but they can help you to feed them better.

Can Computers Feed Your Cattle?
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