Taking a radical approach to ration mixing where by the dry components are soaked and the TMR mixed for half-an-hour could help address common issues around feed sorting on dairy farms.

That’s according to Professor Niels Kristensen, founder of the Danish principle of “Compact Feeding”, who spoke at a Three Counties Feeds workshop, hosted by Michael and Malcolm Barratt of Tredinnick Farm, Liskeard.

In Denmark more than 50% of TMR (total mixed ration) fed herds have adopted some form of “Compact Feeding” where by the concentrates are soaked in water for up to 12 hours. This moistens the particles, so they are more able to ‘stick’ to the forages. The forage components are then added and mixed for a total of around half-an-hour. The aim is to achieve a TMR which is 36-38% dry matter.

The process is designed to produce a consistent ration that’s difficult for cows to sort. In fact in Professor Kristensen's experience, ration variation in “Compact TMRs” can be as low as 1%, compared to standard mixed rations, which can be 10 times higher.

As a result, Danish herds that have implemented this practice have experienced annual milk yield increases of 500-1500 litres a cow, depending on the level of adoption.

Three Counties Feeds nutritionist, Dave Northcott said this concept goes against traditional thinking surrounding ration mixing.

“Traditional TMR feeding advice has been to avoid over mixing in order to maintain the physical structure of the ration. This Danish approach turns that on its head,” he said.

In fact, Professor Kristensen believes the idea that sufficient forage particle size is needed to stimulate cud chewing and saliva production is invalid.

He said: “The whole background for developing “Compact TMR” was that we were able to demonstrate that the ‘scratch factor’ story is flawed.”

In fact, his research has demonstrated poor correlation between rumination and rumen health and a similarly poor correlation between rumination and saliva production in high yielding dairy cows.

Dave believes the “Compact Feeding” approach could help prevent ration sorting on dairy farms and thus improve rumen health and cow health and performance. Reduced sorting may also mean farmers don’t have to push up feed as often.

Dave explained: “Avoiding feed sorting is of major importance when feeding dairy cows. Sorting makes cows spend far too much time at the feed bunk, which damages hooves and induces stress. Feed sorting destroys the link between the formulated ration and the actual ingested ration by the individual cow. Perhaps something that we have long been aware of, but until now have not been that successful in overcoming?”