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Reading Cow Manure: The 5-Point Scale

Reading Cow Manure: The 5-Point Scale

Unfortunately, it’s not the most glamorous job in the world…but manure consistency should be assessed by staff on a weekly basis. This can act as an early indication of ration problems such as the ration being too high / low, too little degradable or soluble protein, inappropriate water or salt intakes, ration fractions or ingredients not being utilised or cows sorting the total mixed ration (TMR).

Manure consistency can be scored on a 1-5 point basis, which we have outlined for you below:

Score Appearance Nutrition Factors
1 Very liquid, runny, shallow puddles Excess protein, excess starch, low fiber, excess minerals
2 Does not pile, runny and stands up to 1″ (2.5cm) high Similar to 1, less extreme factors. Access to pasture, quick change to higher quality forage
3 Porridge or shaving foam. Consistency stands 1.5″ (4cm) high 4-6 concentric rings Ideal situation
4 Thick manure, no dimples or ring Lack of degradable or soluble protein, excess fiber. Low NFC. Typical of dry cows or replacement heifers
5 Firm manure balls, stacks easily to 4″ (10cm) high Dehydration, high fiber, typical of dry cow and heifer rations

Manure consistency should be assessed in the context of other information such as dry matter intake, milk production, the ration actually eaten, current forage quality, particle size distribution and milk composition (including milk urea nitrogen’s if they are available).

Particle content of manure can give an insight into ration digestibility. The proportion of particles greater than ¼ inch (6mm) should be examined. Do this by placing manure samples on a ¼ inch (6mm) screen and wash with a hose.

Forage particles longer than ¼ inch (6mm) remaining on the screen suggest inferior fiber digestion. A high content of whole grain or maize fractions indicates that the maximum feed value of the ration is not being achieved in the rumen.

The quality of forage, levels of ingredient processing and overall moisture, protein and energy contents of the TMR should be reviewed.  Unprocessed cereal grains and corn silage are a major contributor to whole grain loss in manure. To help utilise these fractions more effectively, a KEENAN TMR Specialist will ask you to:

  • Target a TMR dry matter content of 40% dry matter or 60% moisture.
  • Where high levels of maize silage are used add sufficient soluble protein in the form of Rapeseed/Canola meal etc. and ensure that the crude protein level never falls below 17.0% of the total ration dry matter.
  • Use kernel processors on Maize silage for the next season’s crop.
  • Target total calcium contents of 0.8% of the TMR dry matter.

Poor fiber digestibility can be influenced by bouts of sub-clinical rumen acidosis (excess readily fermentable starch in the ration and or insufficient levels of dietary long fiber), a high content of unsaturated oils (e.g. excessive use of brewers grains, distillers grains etc.) and a lack of dietary and soluble protein.

KEENAN Solutions:

  • Adjusting the energy: protein balance of the TMR
  • Exchange some excess starch for sugar and/or digestible fiber
  • Reduce unsaturated oil levels

Author: Denis Dreux