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Is Bunk Management an Art or Science? [Video]

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The point of bunk management is to eliminate erratic intakes. This helps to reduce feed waste and digestive upset for the cows - both of which require more feed to increase production... which needlessly increases costs.

In a nutshell, bunk management is matching the amount of feed delivered to the amount of feed that the cattle can eat.

It’s been said that this is only possible with experience because it’s, “more of a gut feeling.” And although this may be true... practice and experience won’t necessarily lead you to the right place without the right data.

Using software will simplify the art of bunk management … or more appropriately – give you the right data so you can practice perfectly… which will shorten the amount of experience needed to master the gut feeling.

A Systematic Approach

EZfeed has a module specifically for bunk management. It’s a systematic approach to understanding how the amount of feed you deliver to your pens matches up to the amount of feed your cows eat.

Here’s the basic approach:

  1. Track the Previous Intake
  2. Refine the Desired Intake
  3. Consider the Suggested Changes

Previous Intake

The previous intake is what the animals ate the day before. To track it, EZfeed needs to calculate what your animals didn’t eat and compared it to what was delivered.

This can be done in multiple ways, but to get the correct data it’s important that refusal gets recorded every day… and that you evaluate it over a period of time. It also needs to be done on a per pen basis.

The formula for each pen is: Amount Delivered – Refusal = Previous Intake

Desired Intake and Suggested Changes

Over a period of time, you will be able to refine your intake to get your Desired Intake. This is what EZfeed helps you do - by suggesting changes you can make to your loads.

What does this look like daily?

  1. Record Refusal
  2. Enter Global Adjustments
  3. Enter Appetite Adjustments
  4. Review and Accept Suggested Targets

Record Refusal

Most feed managers favor having a certain amount of feed left in the bunk so that milking cows can always have access to feed. But before feeding that excess to another pen, you’ll want to push it out and weigh it so that EZfeed can calculate the previous intake.

Enter Global Adjustments

Global Adjustments are whole herd adjustments. For example, a weather event, like an extremely hot day impacts the appetite of the whole herd.

Enter Appetite Adjustments

Appetite adjustments aren’t based on the amount of feed left; they are made by observing the animals. The reality is the software doesn’t know when the bunks are empty or how long the feed has been gone – it only knows how much refusal was recorded. So if the cows are obviously not getting enough because most of the cows are waiting expectantly as the feed truck returns, you may need to increase the appetite adjustment.

Review and Accept Suggested Targets

Once the refusal has been recorded and any necessary adjustments have been made, you can review the changes suggested by EZfeed.

Just because a suggestion is made, doesn’t mean you need to accept it - sometimes your gut will tell you it doesn’t make sense. This tool isn’t designed to let the computer do all the work... it’s designed to help you be more efficient with your decisions.

Daily Habits for Consistency

There are several basic habits to have in place so that a tool like bunk management can be used effectively.

  1. Consistent Feed Times – being consistent when feed is unloaded to the pens is better for the cows and makes managing bunks easier.
  2. Pen Counts – adjusting counts in a timely and predictable manner keeps the feed amount accurate.
  3. Record Refusal – knowing what is left every day directly affects the amount of feed fed each day.
  4. Feed Always Available – being diligent in delivering enough feed to the pens.
  5. Good Unloading Practices – training everyone to unload properly and with stable scales.

Read more about the Art of Feeding: Empty Bunks by Dr. Tripp

These habits are prerequisites for good bunk management. The consistency reduces the highs and lows that lead to out-of-control feeding practices. Being consistent allows you to get the most benefit out of the bunk management tool in EZfeed.

Watch a Video About EZfeed Bunk Management

The video below is an excerpt from a Bunk Management breakout class at the Herd & Feed Management Conference. Towards the end of the video, you can see some examples in the EZfeed software of what can happen when the above daily habits aren’t in place… and what happens when you discover and solve the inconsistencies.

Bring It All Together

A good computer program will help you track all the small decisions and changes made every day… and allow you to evaluate the results over time. A good computer program will also help you see when large changes are being made so that they don't skew the results. A good computer program will also show you who is making the changes - which creates opportunities for good communication and training.

With consistent habits, and changes that are small and transparent, you will easily know what is happening and make good decisions when changes are needed... and that's feed management!