(Editor's note: This online-only story accompanies our March 2011 cover story, "Ethanol's Dark Livestock Legacy.")
Travis Larson operates two dairies and milks 4,200 cows in Okeechobee, Fla. On one dairy alone, his monthly bill to feed his 2,000 milk cows has soared to $250,000-$300,000 per month.
"Feed is our No. 1 cost," he says. "We’ve had to change the way we feed our cows – less corn, more citrus."
He already grows grass and sorghum and relies on custom-grown corn for silage, the biggest chunk of his total mixed rations. Because purchased corn is a major expense, Larson will substitute DDGs and hominy when he can.
He feeds his entire herd 21,000 lb. of DDGs a day. The ethanol byproduct costs him $226 per ton, up from $160 per ton two years ago. DDGs are more readily available, but feeding the byproduct comes with risk. "They’re not as clean as corn," he says. "There’s a higher percentage of aflatoxin and mycotoxin in DDGs."
Larson has often substituted soybean meal for DDGs. His high-lactating cows get 4 lb. per day of soybean meal, but the commodity is now costing him $357 per ton. "Soybean meal used to be one of our better buys, but it’s gone up ridiculously," he says.
The Florida producer has boosted his citrus feeding for his high cows to 8-9 lb., compared to 5-6 lb. three years ago. But citrus costs have risen too, reaching as high as $190/ton, up from $111/ton a year ago. He managed to secure a contract for $135/ton this year. "Citrus follows corn," he says. "Everything is driven by corn."
Larson isn’t optimistic that the nation’s biofuels policy will change anytime soon to help him. "It’s still going to be there as long as we have our President and the ‘going green’ mindset," he says. "The more ethanol we produce, the higher our feed costs will be."