Controlling this one factor can save 75¢ per cow per day.
A study of California dairies published in 2009 showed that milk production was the driving force for profitability, regardless of milk price or feed cost. It’s important to remember this, considering our current high feed prices.
This study compiled data provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 150 dairy farms ranging in size from 140 to almost 5,000 cows per farm, including Holstein, Jersey and cross-bred herds. Milk prices varied by more than $6.00 per cwt. in the two years data was collected (2006 and 2007). Feed cost per cow was higher for high producing herds. Regardless, the high producing herds were the most profitable.
How do we cut feed costs without losing milk? Concentrate on reducing waste or shrink. A $7.50 per-head feed cost with 10% feed shrink, which is not uncommon, is 75 cents per cow per day! That’s huge.
• Feeding personnel are the most valuable (or most costly) employees on your dairy, especially when feed prices are high. Make sure they are trained in accurate mixing and delivery techniques. Look at the use of premixes to increase accuracy of small inclusion ingredients.
• Concentrate on feed bunk management. The use of feed management software can increase accuracy and trim waste. Most nutritionists recommend feeding to about 3-5% refusals. Fresh refusals can be re-fed to dry cows or heifers.
• Since silage can be a large part of the TMR, reducing shrink here can be huge. Silage losses can be as high as 30% if not properly managed. Feed out and face management should be emphasized. Silage moisture should be tested regularly and adjusted to maintain consistent rations.
• Proper feed center design and maintenance reduces waste due to wind and rain. Other areas to look for shrink include cattle tossing feed, uncovered feed troughs and tracking feed by tractors or loaders, plus controlling feed thieves like birds and rodents.
Cutting feed costs to a point where milk production is reduced is typically not profitable. But cutting feed shrink always increases feed efficiency and your bottom line.
Reference: Rodriguez, L.A. and J.M. Defrain. 2009. Factors affecting profitability of western dairies. Proc. Southwest Nutr. and Management Conf. pp 79-89.
Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.