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What the ideal TMR looks like — and how to create it

Image of TMR in farmer's hands

As cow feed accounts for a quarter of total farm costs, there’s a lot at stake.  Beth Gardner takes on one of the most complex factors in optimising feed conversion efficiency — physical ration presentation.

Author: Beth Gardner, InTouch Feeding Specialist for the North of England.

On googling “ration presentation”, the first search result stems from all the way back to 2011 — a time-flying 12 years ago! It’s a Farmers Weekly article and in the first sentence it refers to feed costs being “at an all-time high”.

Sounds familiar, right?

Something else that remains unchanged, is the scientific fact that the rumen requires fibrous dry matter to operate effectively.

So, let’s explore what has changed in the intervening years?

1. We’re growing better quality forage

Thanks to technological, mechanical, and biological advancements, we’re generally growing better quality grass — and preserving it better too!

Overall, we have:

  • Increased leaf content
  • Reduced fibre levels
  • Shorter chopping

As a result, the amount of straw incorporated into diets has increased. It’s not uncommon to see rations with half a kilo of straw per cow per day.

This increase in straw can help to improve cow rumen health and reduce the volume of silage in the diet, meaning silage stocks tend to go further.

That said, with weather changes and weather extremes becoming more common, grass growth remains a challenge. Some of our customers are now growing more maize to mitigate risk.

2. We know more about rumen health

For some time, many nutritionists and feed specialists had promoted cutting fibrous dry matter (straw, hay and drier silages) to the width of the animal’s muzzle to achieve the all-important “scratch factor” in the rumen.

Nowadays a cow’s requirement for dietary fibre must be assessed not by muzzle width, but rather by both particle size and chemical fibre content. This is known as physically effective neutral detergent fibre (peNDF).

Current research from the University of Wisconsin stipulates that a 5mm particle chop length is required to be a physically effective NPD. Any shorter, and the conversion of input to output will be compromised. Any longer, and intakes are commonly reduced.

This is only one aspect of the balancing act of chop type. Fibre type and consistency are also factored into feed conversion efficiency performance.

3. We’ve explored alternative feeding strategies

In opposition to the concept of “scratch factor” lies compact feeding or compact TMRs. This is a Danish concept that some U.K. dairy farmers have tried from around 6 years ago.

Compact feeding creates a porridge-like pulp that is soft, mushy and near impossible for cows to sort.

It disregards anything to do with fibre structure and rather focusses on the goal of getting intakes in quicker, so that cows have more time to lie down and ruminate. 

It seemed to do the job of increasing milk yield on many systems. However, it didn’t come without its drawbacks. Unsurprisingly, it commonly caused acidosis and all the immediate and long-term challenges that come with that condition.

A more common system seen in the U.K. today is “partial compact feeding”, known to be an effective feeding method of reducing sorting behaviour. By pre-soaking concentrates before adding feed and chopping forages, the fibre structure of the forage remains. Rations produced using this process should aim to be around 40-42 DM%.

In summary, feed remains one of our biggest cost pressures, however we’ve improved forage production and now better understand promotion of rumen health and function. 

How to create the optimum TMR

We know that the physical presentation of a ration directly impacts on dry matter intake and rumen function, and we know that different diet feeders create very different physical presentation results.

When it comes to choosing a diet feeder — there is no right or wrong choice. The choice of a horizontal paddle or a vertical auger tub depends on many different factors. Factors include: farm layout, business goals, base products and feeding operators.

The physical property of the rations produced by the two different diet feeding machines are very different. A horizontal mixed ration is typically more open and airier than that of a vertical auger machine, which tends to be denser.

In any case, the number one priority is consistency. First, consistency of peNDF and second, keeping that consistent mix the same for every cow, every day.

Alltech’s InTouch reported feeding data (detailed in the table below) shows that farmers moving to the KEENAN system complete with InTouch, typically see a 0.13 increase in feed efficiency. This may seem like a small improvement, but that margin gain can stack up to thousands of pounds every year.

Signs your TMR could be better 

Even a brand-new machine will not produce the best mix possible, if used incorrectly. Here’s the top 5 signs that your ration has room for improvement: 

  1. Fibres in the TMR are unevenly chopped and too long or short
  2. Manure is either too loose or solid and contains visibly undigested food
  3. Cows are swishing their tails, are not cudding and not lying down
  4. There are fibrous leftovers when the TMR has been eaten up
  5. If feed conversion efficiency (FCE) is below 1.5, or below individual targets*

*Feed conversion efficiency is the ratio of kg feed to kg of milk output in lactating dairy cows. InTouch targets dairy farmers to achieve 1.5kg of milk for every 1kg of dry matter of feed

And here are 5 of the most likely causes:

  1. Inaccurate under or overloading of ingredients
  2. Blunt or missing blades
  3. Exceeding the stated load capacity of the machine
  4. Incorrect loading order
  5. Insufficient mixing between ingredients

Some examples of TMR rations

Good TMR

Over-processed TMR

Under-processed TMR


The proof is in the presentation


Alltech InTouch research using the Penn state particle separator (PSPS) on dairy farms in the North of England found inconsistency of particle size and NDF percentage in mixed rations.  

Laboratory analysis on rations formed using standard mixer scales versus InTouch controller systems found further inconsistencies. Standard scales showed a 33% variance in NDF dry matter content, whilst the InTouch controller showed only 17%. 

Customer story

William Hill, who runs a 130-cow herd in Cumbria, improved mix quality and speed when he upgraded to a MechFiber365+ diet feeder. With this improvement, milk butterfat increased by 0.44% and feed conversion efficiency (kg of milk output: kg feed) improved by 0.06.

Would you like your ration analysed by a specialist? Contact your local InTouch specialist today!