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Nutrition: Feed Costs Revisited

08:51AM Sep 24, 2010

*Extended comments are highlighted in blue.

With good growing conditions this summer and an outlook for big crops, the hope was that feed costs for 2011 would be low. But high feed exports and renewable fuel demands are clouding that once sunny picture.

The feeding strategy for this fall and winter will once again be to combine the lowest-cost feed ingredients into a diet that doesn’t sacrifice milk production.

There are various ways of expressing feed costs for lactating cows, and no single feed-cost expression provides a complete answer.

Feed cost per cow per day is an essential measure based on feed intake. Higher-producing cows have a higher feed intake than late-lactation, low-producing cows. Therefore, the cost per day to feed high-production cows should be greater than the cost of feeding low-producing cows.

Feed cost per day ignores milk production, so expressing feed costs per cwt. of milk produced is the best way of comparing and evaluating groups of lactating cows.

Ultimately, income over feed cost (IOFC) is the best measure to evaluate feed costs relevant to milk production and price. All three ways of expressing feed cost should be evaluated to get the most cost-effective feeding program on a farm.

A reasonable goal as of mid-September for lactating cows averaging 80 lb. of milk per day is to have feed costs under $5/day, feed cost per cwt. of milk under $6 and IOFC of $10 or greater.

For most dairy producers, corn and soybean meal are staples in lactating cow diets. As of mid-September in the Upper Midwest, corn is hovering around $4/bu. and soybean meal is around $335/ton. Using these as base prices in a 50-50 mixed (dry-matter basis) alfalfa and corn silage diet for 80 lb. of milk, a 25¢ change in corn bushel price equates to a 5¢ change in lactating cow diet cost, while a $50/ton change in soybean meal results in a 10¢/cow change in diet cost.

Obviously, this reflects only a tiny fraction of all the ration scenarios being fed on farms, but it does illustrate the importance of paying close attention to changing corn and soybean meal prices.

Byproduct feeds are generally the first feeds looked at to reduce diet cost. Many corn byproduct feeds, food processing byproducts and flour milling byproduct feeds are readily available and can offer a good economical source of nutrients. However, the value of these and any “cheap feed” is in the amount and consistency of nutrients, the quality of the product in freshness and keeping, and ease of handling the feed on the farm. If a cheap feed is moldy, takes extra time and work to feed, and varies in nutrient content with every delivery, the loss in milk production and extra labor will far exceed any savings in daily ration cost.

One of the byproduct feeds that is being looked at closely again is whole cottonseed. When feed costs increased sharply a few years ago, cottonseed was one of the feeds removed to lower costs. This year’s cotton crop is projected to be much larger than in the last few years. With reasonable transportation prices, this may be the time to add it back into the diet.

The fat, fiber and protein profile of whole cottonseed makes it unique and an excellent complimentary feed in most all diets. Using the ration scenarios for the corn and soybean meal prices described above, whole cottonseed can be priced into the diets at about $100/ton less than the current $335/ton spot markets. Projections are that once the crop is harvested, prices should be in a very competitive range to add this feed back into Upper Midwest dairy diets.