Nutrition Feeding Opportunities

March 5, 2009 06:00 PM
Mike Hutjens
*Extended comments highlighted in blue.

Just keep holding on. This year will be a challenge for dairy managers as milk prices have plummeted to below $10 in some areas of the country, and well below break-even for nearly everyone.

While a number of decisions, strategies and changes can lead to short-term savings, be careful to follow these tips:

1. Never give up milk. One pound of feed dry matter can cost 9¢ to 12¢. High-producing Holsteins can convert that pound of dry matter to 2.5 lb. of milk. So cutting 1 lb. of feed intake, while saving 10¢ in feed costs, also loses 22¢ to 30¢ in milk income.

2. Monitor milk components. If your milk is priced based on components, milk protein is worth more than $2.35/lb.
while milk fat is valued at $1.10/lb. Holsteins should produce milk containing 3.65% milk fat or higher, and milk protein should exceed 3% (a ratio of 81% when dividing milk true protein by milk fat).

3. Calculate feed efficiency. Feed efficiency (FE) should exceed 1.4 lb. of 3.5% fast corrected milk per pound of dry matter consumed. An increase of 0.1 FE point (from 1.4 to 1.5) can lead to 28¢ more income/cow/day. High-producing herds in the Midwest can achieve FE values of 1.6 or more.

4. Calculate cost per pound of dry matter. This calculation reflects forage quality, feed ingredient selection and purchased feeds. In Illinois, to achieve a value of 9¢/lb. dry matter (range of 8.5¢ to 11¢), producers need higher levels of corn silage (quality index over 30% starch and neutral detergent fiber digestibility over 55% in a 30-hour test), including distillers' grain as a source of protein and corn gluten feed to replace corn.

5. Balance for metabolizable protein. Computer programs that are based on metabolizable protein can predict microbial protein yield and rumen undegraded sources. Protein costs and ration protein levels (16% to 17%) can be lowered while maintaining milk yield and components.

6. Consider multiple groups. A one-group total mixed ration is easier to manage, but multiple groups can save 40¢ to 70¢/cow/day (remove any additives, fats/oils and nutrients not needed by low-producing cows). Monitor any drops in milk production when cows are moved, body condition scores, availability of rBST and reproductive success getting cows pregnant.

7. Review feed additives. Feed additives are "good buys” when the price of milk is $20/cwt. or $10/cwt. The benefit-to-cost ratios vary from 4:1 to 12:1 (4¢ to 12¢ returned for each 1¢ invested). Buffers, yeast/yeast culture, silage inoculants, biotin, organic trace minerals and monensin remain the most logical choices.

8. Monitor fats and oils. High-producing cows require additional energy due to high milk yield, low dry matter intake and marginal forage quality. Cows producing more than 2.7 lb. of milk fat (Holsteins over 70 lb. of milk with 4% fat or Jersey cows over 60 lb. of milk with 4.5% fat), cows under 2.5 body condition score and thin cows that are less fertile or ketotic may respond to additional fat/oil.

9. Lead factors. Often, we balance rations for 20% over the herd or pen milk average. (Example: A herd averaging 70 lb. of milk times 20% lead factor equals 14 lb. added to the base of 70 lb. or balancing for 84 lb. of milk.) Consider lowering the lead factor and monitoring cow response. Young herds require additional lead factors for growth (5 to 6 lb. of milk equivalents).

10. Reduce shrink. Shrink losses can represent 2% to 12% of feed purchased or raised that is not consumed. Wet feeds (mold or seepage losses), weather-damaged forages, snow or wind losses, errors in adding feed, excessive weigh-backs and feed spilling represent economic losses.

11. Monitor cow responses. As dairy managers are making ration changes, your cows can be an excellent monitoring tool.
  • Changes in milk urea nitrogen (MUN) Goal: 8 to 12
  • Changes in body condition scores Goal: Above 2.5
  • Shifts in somatic cell counts Goal: Less than 200,000
  • Drop in dry matter intake Goal: Less than 2 lb./day
  • Change in milk fat test Goal: Less than 0.1 point
  • Change in milk protein Goal: No change

12. Pulling minerals. Reducing mineral levels and forms may not reduce milk yield initially, but long-term animal health, heifer growth, somatic cell count and reproductive performance will be impacted.

Bonus content:

"Feeding Challenges With Today''s Milk Prices"
-webinar by Mike Hutjens, March 20, 2009

"Feeding Challenges With Today''s Milk Price"
-article by Mike Hutjens

"Feed Costs Revisited"
-University of Minnesota Dairy Extension article by Jim Paulson.

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