Tools of the Trade: Dairy Nutritionists

Hello all! Hope everything in whatever part of the world you are in is well! Did anyone watch the solar eclipse yesterday? Get any good pictures? Feel free to comment and share below!


Today’s post got inspired by Pinterest (yes, that black time-consuming hole has me by it’s talons!). On a list of blog topic ideas, there was one about what’s in your purse. So, I thought to myself, how can I translate that into agriculture! It dawned on me to discuss what would be in a dairy nutritionist’s “purse” (or toolbox for the men =) ). Some you might find suprising!

  1. Ziploc bags. To put feed and forage samples to send to a forage testing laboratory like mine!
  2. Rubber Overshoes. These large, rubber “shoes” go over top of the nutritionist’s shoes to help in biosecurity on dairy farms. More on that to follow with some other items on our list. The nutritionist will put them on at his/her vehicle and take them off after the visit around the dairy.
  3. A small bucket. This is to add water and a solution to to disinfect those rubber shoes – typically the nutritionist will clean the rubber shoes when they take them off after their visit.
  4. Disinfectant. This is important as it kills the bacteria on the rubber shoes in preparation for the next farm. That way, the nutritionist isn’t tracking potentially disease causing bacteria from one farm to another on his/her overshoes.
  5. Notebook/Pen. To write down observations of the cows, make a list, do inventories, etc.
  6. Laptop. Nutritionists have a special software on their computers that use the nutritional values a forage laboratory (like mine) give them for the feeds and forages they sample. The software enters all of these into complex algorithms and such to help the nutritionists come up with a  combination of different feeds and forages to get the most nutritional value for the lovely bovine ladies!
  7. Hay probe. This is an instrument used to pull a proper hay sample. It is important to get the most representative sample to test, or else it could skew results. Parts of a hay bale are more nutrient dense than others.
  8. Moisture monitoring device. These give a quick estimate of the amount of moisture versus dry matter. This is important because the nutritionist gives the farmer a paper that says the amount in pounds of each feed ingredient to mix for the cows’ ration, based on numbers the software give out – these are either on an “as is basis” (dry matter + moisture) or a “dry matter basis” (dry matter only). This matters because a pound of a wetter corn silage would have different nutrient concentrations versus a pound of a drier corn silage because there is a difference in how much moisture is making up that pound of feed. More moisture would equate to a lower concentration of dry matter that has all of the nutrients in it.
  9. TMR Particle Separator. Penn State has developed the one most widely used. Its a series of pans that have holes in the bottom like a strainer – the holes get smaller as you go down the stack. The TMR (total mixed ration) is placed in and shaken for a set amount of time (hey, free arm workout!) and the amount of particles in each pan is used to determine how particle size is affecting the digestibility of the TMR. Cows like a certain particle length to be able to digest their meals properly – and this helps the nutritionist make sure they are getting the right particle length!
  10. Coffee. Lots. Days travelling from farm to farm can be long and very tiresome. Just like most, nutritionists enjoy a cup o’ joe to start the day off right, and maybe as a pick-me-up in the middle of the day!

Until next time,

‚̧ Meg