Are you considering changes to your operation to improve cow comfort, but unsure of how to justify the cost?
Better ventilation, more bunk space, and different stalls and bedding materials are among the commonly implemented improvements. But how can you measure the return on investment?
Economic return is generated from one of three major areas of the dairy operation: asset turnover, profit margin, or leverage. In the case of improvements to cow comfort, the primary economic effect is in improved profit margin. Since 80% to 90% of the changes in profit margin are due to income over feed cost (IOFC), understanding the components of IOFC will help you evaluate the resulting effects of cow comfort changes.
Milk volume. This is probably the most common factor we all consider when evaluating cow comfort. With all other factors equal, an increase in milk per day equates to increased IOFC and improved profit margin. However, a lack of milk production increase does not mean that the cow comfort improvement is unprofitable.
Milk price. Improvements in cow comfort can change milk quality as well as milk components. For example, overcrowded pens with limited feeding space per cow may lead to slug feeding, rumen acidosis and decreased butterfat levels. Changes in bedding, stall comfort and animal cleanliness can all impact milk quality. Milk quality variances (somatic cell count or bacteria) or milk component changes will impact milk prices in most markets.
Feed efficiency. Stall comfort and pen density may also affect feeding behavior. While this is not a common consideration of changes associated with cow comfort, think about tracking changes in feed efficiency on a pen basis each day. Cows in a given pen may maintain similar levels of milk production even though their dry matter intake increases or decreases.
Provided that body condition and energy-corrected milk remain unchanged or increase, any decrease in dry matter intake will improve IOFC and profit margin. Furthermore, tracking changes in daily feed efficiency might not only provide insight on changes that are affecting milk production, but also changes influencing cow comfort.
Feed cost per pound of dry matter. Feed cost changes are not usually associated with changes in cow comfort. However, ration changes to improve digestible fiber for animals suffering from rumen acidosis may improve the comfort of those animals. Any change in ration components may impact the cost of the ration and, therefore, IOFC.
Now for the real challenge: How can you gather sufficient information on a new technology to determine the potential financial impact on your dairy? For starters, challenge vendors and researchers to provide more data concerning the results of previous installations of cow comfort technology.
Click here for ways to track daily feed efficiency and IOFC on a per pen basis.
You are reading an extended version of this column that ran in the October issue of Dairy Today.