Dairy farmer Brian Smith pushes up the feed for his cows in a dairy barn just outside of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, -- the same barn where he milked cows as a teenager. The difference now is they're his cows.

EAST EARL, Pa. — Producing a good total mixed ration is all about attention to detail.

Normand St-Pierre of Perdue AgriBusiness gave farmers some tips to avoid messing up their herd’s TMR during R&J Dairy Consulting’s winter meeting on Jan. 28 at Shady Maple Smorgasbord.

Not just anybody can mix a TMR. The person needs to know what to do and concentrate on it.

“How many of you have a child mixing the TMR?” St-Pierre asked.

Multitasking while mixing is not ideal. Don’t take cellphone calls, and if possible, schedule visitors to come after you’re done mixing, he said.

That shouldn’t be too much of a time commitment. Running the mixer for just 10 minutes might be too long, St-Pierre said, because the fibers of the feed take too much damage.

Farmers should avoid filling their mixers to the top with feedstuffs, minerals and silage. This can be a problem because damaged fibers stay at the bottom while the top layer does not get sufficiently mixed, he said.

TMR moisture levels are vital and need to be measured. If the moisture has changed by more than 2%, then the dairy producer will need to adjust the moisture level in their silage, St-Pierre said.

Producers can check their silage moisture at a lab or with a Koster moisture tester,

St-Pierre recommended that producers test their silage at least once a week. Testing has a cost, especially if samples are sent to a lab, but sick cows are the result if farmers skip testing altogether, he said.

Farmers should also check the mixer’s scales two to four times a year. A simple procedure is placing 400 pounds of bagged feed on each quarter of the mixer.

This should be done when the mixer is empty, half-full and full to confirm that the scale is working correctly.

In addition, old mixers should be checked regularly for wear, he said.

Producers should also avoid reducing the amount of feedstuff or minerals to make it stretch.

While ingredients can be costly, stretching defeats the purpose of trying to give each cow the right amount of nutrients. Holsteins are sensitive to their nutrition.

“Why balance a ration if you choose only to use half?” St-Pierre said.

Special Sections Editor

Courtney Love is Special Sections Editor at Lancaster Farming. She can be reached at 717-721-4426 or