**Extended comments highlighted in blue
Feed prices in 2012 will continue to challenge many dairy managers as milk prices remain volatile. But there are several opportunities that still exist to convert feed to milk. Feed ingredient selection will vary depending on your location and growing conditions last year.
High-priced alfalfa hay. Prices of more than $300 a ton are common, with a relative forage quality (RFQ) of more than 180. In Illinois, the value of each point of RFQ is $1.44 ($260 a ton with 180 RFQ).
RFQ has ranged from 90¢ to $1.10 in the last several years. Is forage worth the current price? Limit high-quality hay to 5 lb. of dry matter, keeping feed costs down, while enhancing total feed intake and rumen function.
If your herd responds with 4 lb. more milk after 5 lb. of hay are added on an as-fed basis (at a cost of 65¢ per day), your return is 11¢ per cow per day (19¢ per pound of milk price times 4 lb. equals 76¢ per day). If you need the hay for optimal rumen function (cud chewing and rumen forage raft), it can be worth more.
Sesame, a computer software program from The Ohio State University, calculates a break-even price of alfalfa hay (with a relative feed value of 180) at $249 a ton.
Low-quality legume-grass forage. Some dairy managers may be feeding first-cut legume-grass forage under 110 RFQ due to rain delays and growing conditions. High-producing cows should be fed forages of more than 150 RFQ.
The right strategy is to feed the lower-quality forage to older heifers and far-off dry cows. If low-quality forage must be fed to the milking herd, limit the amount to less than 5 lb. of dry matter, as it can limit feed intake and slow the rate of passage (like adding 2 lb. of straw). Use corn silage, byproduct feeds and higher legume-grass forages to dilute lower-quality feed.
Minimum forage levels. In drought areas in the Southwest U.S, all forages are expensive. Use these guidelines:
- Provide 1% of the cow’s body weight as forage dry matter (13 lb. for 1,300-lb. cows).
- Offer a minimum of 19% to 20% forage neutral detergent fiber (NDF), calculated by a ration software program.
- Have a minimum of 8% to 10% in the top box of a Penn State Separator and more than 30% in the second box.
- Offer a minimum of 28% NDF in the total ration (forages and concentrates).
Corn silage is not corn silage. Corn silage can be the answer in some areas, but corn silage can vary with high starch value due to drought stress causing shorter plants, low starch due to poor pollination or late planting, and/or low NDFD (neutral detergent fiber digestibility), resulting in lower energy value. Sesame software values corn silage at $85 a ton on an as-fed basis.
Fuzzy cottonseed as a forage extender. The NDF in fuzzy cottonseed has a forage equivalence of 75% and will appear in the second box of the Penn State Separator. The price of fuzzy cottonseed is higher in 2012 due to drought stress reducing yields in Texas.
Sesame software calculates a break-even value of $303 per ton, while Feed Val 3 software (University of Wisconsin) gives a higher value of $360, as it adds value for oil in fuzzy cottonseed. In some areas, fuzzy cottonseed may be a better buy than high-quality hay.
NDF byproducts. Byproduct feeds can be used to extend forages. Dairy managers must realize that the fiber will not function as forage. These fibrous feeds can be pelleted or finely processed, which provides chemical fiber but not physical fiber. Break-even values using Feed Val 3 are listed below ($6.60 per bu. corn, $333 per ton soybean meal and $880 per ton tallow).
Beet pulp: $208
Corn gluten feed: $251
Soy bean hulls: $207
Wheat midds: $227
High-producing cows can convert expensive feeds into a profit. Do not shortchange your cows’ nutrition!