A Washington dairy producer explains how he puts the best feed where it will have the greatest return.
By Jeremy Visser, Sumas, Wash.
Editor’s note: Visser milks 3,200 Jerseys and Holsteins at four dairies near the Canadian border. He also serves on the board of Darigold, the Seattle-based marketing and processing subsidiary of the Northwest Dairy Association.
Selling lots of milk means sourcing lots of high-quality feed. It can be daunting during these times of high feed prices, but a good mix of purchased and self-raised feed and the flexibility to shift between different feedstuffs allows us options to lower overall feed costs. Having options allows us to try and put the best feed where it will have the greatest return. When lowering costs, all efforts are made to maintain production, but the main focus is the margin over feed costs.
One instance where we have become flexible is in the use of corn grain. Five years ago, we were feeding over 15 lb. per head. Today, through the use of wheat, bakery byproduct and barley, we are only feeding 2 lb. of corn grain and are moving to exclude it completely.
We grow rye, fescue and orchard grasses in addition to some corn silage. Most of our crops are put up in the 28-45% dry matter range for grasses and 22-32% for corn. We strive for digestible fiber and lots of it. The higher the moisture, generally the higher the digestabilty and the lower the lignen level, so the more we can feed while still maintaining efficiency.
Due to the grasses’ natural buffering capacity, we are allowed a wider range of feedstuffs, which blends down the cost of feeding cows. But it is essential that the homegrown feed be harvested before it gets too mature. You can always buy low-quality feed. Don’t jam yourself up with piles of low-value feed.
We feed a one-group TMR to all the lactating cows and only one other lactating ration to the fresh cows. This strategy is a hold-over from the Posilac days, when cows could maintain profitable lactations longer. It’s now kept because we replace cows more often and just try to maintain efficient feed-to-milk conversion levels. It is disappointing to be selling cows that, in the past, we would have kept for longer. But the reality of increased feed costs means that only efficient animals are deserving of their stall in the barn.
Efficiently converting high-priced feed into milk is where we try to focus our attention. For us, this means maintaining or striving at least to achieve perfection in reading bunks so as to not waste feed or underfeed cows. Our feeders are counted on to be accurate and in-tune with the herds. This is easier than trying to be in-tune with the feed markets when it comes to pricing feed.