High feed costs this fall are changing the culling metrics of which cows should stay, and which cows should go, says Jeffry Bewley, a dairy specialist with the University of Kentucky.
“At a minimum, a cow should cover the costs of the feed she is eating to remain in the milking string,” he says. “As feed prices increase or milk prices decrease, the breakeven production level increases.”
According to a Nebraska dairy budget, feed costs are approaching $11 per cow per day for an animal producing 60 lb. of milk. That’s based on $8/bu corn, $550/ton soybean meal and $250/ton hay.
At $20/cwt for milk, this cow is still producing $1 more per day in milk receipts than the cost of the feed she eats. The breakeven level is 55 lb. of milk per day, according to chart developed by Bewley.
But in reality, culling decisions should encompass more than feed costs. “Probably the most important is whether the cow is pregnant,” says Bewley. “Another option for pregnant cows in late lactation producing below the breakeven milk production level is to dry them off early.”
Other factors are health status and age. “The future income potential of a non-lame, low somatic cell count cows is higher than a lame, chronically high SCC cow,” says Bewley.
Bewley’s full analysis of culling decision can be read here.