A Tough Blend: Feed, Price, Storage

Published on: 17:37PM Aug 06, 2010

By Brian Medeiros. dairy producer, Hanford, Calif.

Nutrition is the backbone of any successful dairy business, along with great cows and great management. If your nutrition is out of sync, then nothing else matters.  

Nutrition, however, isn’t easy to get a handle on. It takes a lot of work and experience to get your cows dialed in just right. But getting the dialing to work for the cows is a whole different beast on its own. We need to get the right feed at the right price and store it the right way. This ends up being the toughest part of all.

We’re always looking for the best feed at the best price. That’s definitely a challenge. We stay in contact with our feed salesmen and brokers, making sure that we can lock in our feed costs when they’re at their lowest.
Our goal is to contract all concentrates for the year and buy our alfalfa hay as cost-effectively as possible.
We also pride ourselves on buying at least half of our hay from neighboring farms. When looking at forage quality, we test every cutting from every field and, at times, test every load of hay. We test all of our hay to insure that we know what we’re using when we make up the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) for our cows.   
When talking about dairy cow nutrition with any nutritionist, there is always a common theme. Cows have three different rations.
No. 1 is the ration that you make up on paper or in the computer, or the one your nutritionist makes up for your cows.
The second ration is the one that the feeder makes. Be it you or an employee, 100% accuracy is always a difficult task. 
The third ration is the one that the cows eat out of the bunk. Cows are always sorting and picking out the "candy" they want and pushing the other feedstuffs they don’t want aside. This is a valid issue that we face every day, twice a day.
We’re looking into minimizing this variability in the future but it will take some time and money. Our future goal is to implement a FeedWatch or EZfeed™ monitoring system on our dairy so that we can at least take out one step in the infamous trio threat. 
Finally, we come to storing our forages the right way. If you look at it, there are 20 different ways to make a silage pit -- and countless other theories. 
Traditionally, we have made a standard push-up pit atop a concrete slab. This has worked well except for what we have to pitch off. This year we’re going to try a rollover pile to minimize the amount of spoil on top. We hope to see a great improvement on top of our pits. 
For our hay, we have built two new hay barns. Hay we can’t fit in the barn is stored outside on top of the sloped concrete to minimize the impact from rainwater.
Medeiros and his parents own and operate a 2,300-cow herd in the San Joaquin Valley.