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Feeding total mixed rations

Quick facts

Feeding a total mixed ration (TMR) that contains all the feeds and nutrients the cow needs is an effective, efficient and profitable way to feed dairy cows.

Managing TMR daily can make sure your cows receive enough nutrients for good health, milk production and reproduction. 

Proper nutrition leads to healthy and high-performing dairy cows. Cow rations must contain the following:

  • Good quality forages

  • A balance of grains and proteins sources

  • Vitamins

  • Minerals

These feed sources provide nutrients needed for milk production, growth and reproduction. You must balance the nutrients in a ration to avoid excesses or deficiencies. Balancing rations to meet your cows’ nutrient needs can optimize feed digestion and use.   

Feeding a total mixed ration (TMR) that contains all the feeds and nutrients the cow needs is an effective, efficient and profitable way to feed dairy cows.

What is a total mixed ration (TMR)?

A TMR is a method of feeding cows that combines feeds formulated to a specific nutrient content into a single feed mix. The mix contains the following feeds.

  • Forages

  • Grains

  • Protein feeds

  • Minerals

  • Vitamins

  • Feed additives

 You can offer cows free choice TMR.

Should you feed your cows a TMR?


Grouping tips for TMR Feeding

In general, producers using TMR should have at least three milk production groups and a dry cow groups. Suggested groups for a TMR fed herd include the following.


Formulating TMR rations for groups

Balance rations for slightly higher nutrient intake than the group’s average milk production. Use the dry matter (DM) intake of the group to formulate the ration to the desired nutrient amounts. In general, formulate lactating cow rations for milk productions about 20 percent above the group average.

For example, if the group averages 26 kilograms of milk daily, formulate rations for 31 kilograms of milk daily. Rations formulated slightly above average milk production can help cows produce more. If they don’t, the extra nutrition can aid in growth or body condition.

Formulate first lactation cow groups for 30 percent above milk production of the group to promote growth.

Moving cows between groups

After calving, move cows to the fresh cow group. Between 14 and 21 days after calving, move healthy cows into the high production group. Keep cows in a high production group until:

  • They’re pregnant,

  • Their milk production drops 10 percent or more below the group’s production average or

  • Their body condition score is greater than 3.

Avoiding milk production drops

Cows usually drop in milk production when moving between groups. To minimize milk production drops, follow these guidelines:

  • Move cows in groups of four or more. Social changes and fighting within groups affect individual cows more than groups of cows.

  • Move cows at feeding time to limit fighting and social upset.

  • Move cows on a regularly scheduled basis.

    • This helps cows get used to moving and facing social changes.

  • If cows moved to a high group don’t reach the group’s average milk production within about five weeks or before 60 days in milk, move them to a lower group.

  • Avoid large changes in ration nutrient content between groups.

    • You can reduce drops in milk production due to nutritional changes by formulating rations for no more than a 9 kilograms milk production difference.

TMR feeding daily

Monitor the following to make sure your cows consume the correct amount of nutrients for good milk production, reproduction and health.


Jim Linn, former dairy nutritionist, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences

Reviewed in 2020

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