More Milk, Lower Feed Costs

Published on: 13:04PM May 17, 2010

Ron Gibson milks 1,400 cows at his family’s Gibson’s Green Acres dairy near Ogden, Utah.

By Ron Gibson


Over the years, I’ve learned that different things work on different farms. During the last five years, we’ve been in a steady expansion, growing from 500 cows to our current total of 1,400.

Growing and harvesting high-quality forages have gone from being simple things to being real challenges.

We’ve been able to do a really good job of growing great corn silage. In my lifetime, we haven’t had a single crop of corn destroyed. We always get at least one hay crop a year rained on and sometimes more than that. So we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our corn silage program over the past few years to maximize profitability.

We’ve had at least 50 lb. of corn silage in our ration for close to 10 years now and have had great success with it. Two years ago, we planted some brown mid-rib (BMR) corn silage as a trial. We were happy with the results but wanted to try it one more year before we went crazy with it. In 2009, we grew 250 acres of it and have been feeding it since Christmas. We are shocked at what it’s done for our cow health and production.

The quality of corn silage is paramount to our operation because it’s the staple of our ration. We monitor moistures closely at harvest to make sure that our fermentations will be optimal and we have the desired level of starch. The amazing thing about BMR corn silage is that it has 40% less lignin in the plant than conventional corn silage. Lower lignin dramatically increases digestibility.

We saw the biggest response in our Jerseys and in our first-lactation animals. These animals are most restricted by dry matter intake benefit because every bite of feed they eat is more readily turned into milk. We always try to plan for at least a 60-day carryover for corn silage so that the cows are getting a consistently fermented feed every day of the year.

Hay is also an important part of our ration. Finding high-quality dry hay is one of our biggest challenges. In our area, we have a lot of small hay fields, so the hay quality is very inconsistent. We have found that with highly digestible corn silage, we can get great milk production with 170 relative feed value hay.

Actually getting the feed into the cows it’s intended for is a big part of my job as a manager. We purchased the EZfeed program three years ago. With it, we’re able to track exactly what goes into the feed mixer every day and with every load. We make sure that we put the highest quality in front of the cows that have the most potential. Our feeder does an incredible job with accuracy. His running total of error is less than 4%.

Attention to detail in what we feed our cows is probably the biggest factor in dairy profitability. For example, last week my ration cost averaged $4.93/head/day. At 82 lb. of milk/cow/day, that means feed cost/cwt. is $6.16. Last year at this time, our feed cost/head/day was around $6. We were getting 70 lb./cow/day. That means my feed cost/cwt. was $8.57—a difference of $2.41 this year.

I think that milk is king and the safest way to get milk is with good-quality, highly digestible forages.