Escalating feed costs have challenged many dairy producers in recent months, including Brian Mitchell’s clients. Mitchell, a nutritionist for more than 30 dairies located throughout Idaho with a combined 40,000 cows, empathizes with dairy producers who feel a lack of control over rising feed costs. Mitchell advises his clients to focus on the things they can control – on-farm forage production, cow health, reproduction and milk production.
“We have to do the best at the things we have control over. We have to maximize efficiency in those areas. The rest of it is largely out of our hands,” Mitchell says.
On-farm forage production is one of the areas that Mitchell believes can increase a dairy’s profitability.
“Putting up high-quality forage is crucial for long-term profitability. The better the quality and the higher the volume of forage you put up, the more profitable you’re probably going to be. This year this is especially true, and I anticipate that it will continue into the near future,” Mitchell says.
When available, Mitchell maximizes silage in his rations. He says silage is often the most economical feed for dairy cows. He says the more silage dairy producers can acquire and properly ensile, the better.
“It’s definitely a good way to increase profit when purchased feed costs are high,” Mitchell says.
As feed prices increase and dairy producers evaluate the efficiencies of their rations, Mitchell cautions against removing ration components that contribute to cow health and reproduction.
“When we evaluate nutritional efficiencies as an industry, we often overlook the money that we invest in cow health and reproduction,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell, who is also a veterinarian, says cow health and disease management can be improved by including nutritional additives that may not necessarily increase milk production.
“A lot of time we look at ration cost in terms of efficiency of producing milk, but a lot of that ration cost goes into keeping the cows healthy, too,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell says he’s had success managing salmonella and hemorrhagic bowel syndrome by including additives in the ration at VanDyk Dairy in Buhl, Idaho. Mitchell praised the farm as having three characteristics most nutritionists appreciate in their clients – open-mindedness, hands-on owner awareness of the herd’s current situation and accurate records.
“It’s easy to make the wrong decisions when you have the wrong information. It happens more than I’d like to see, but not on this farm,” Mitchell says.
Another advantage of the VanDyk’s ration formulation is simplicity. They feed a total mixed grain, hay and silage package. Both forages are in large stockpiles and tested before feeding. This keeps the ration consistent and reduces mixing errors, Mitchell says.
Problem solving for his dairy clients is what Mitchell says he enjoys most about his job.
“I very much look forward to evaluating a farm’s goals,” Mitchell says. “Most of the time we’re going in the right direction. But sometimes you get some new snags thrown in your way.”
Corn prices have been one of those snags. Since prices began increasing, Mitchell has decreased many of the rations he formulates to include 7 to 10 pounds of corn instead of 12 to 15 pounds per cow per day. Mitchell says his ration formulations have become more conservative.
“Problem solving when cash is tight can be frustrating, but resolving those challenges is what I enjoy doing,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell believes dairies such as VanDyk Dairy that can overcome challenges, increase milk production and implement efficient management will be successful into the future.
“Our dairy industry today is a highly technical, highly refined, highly efficient industry, for the most part. We’re looking to improve efficiencies that are much, much smaller today than they were 10 years ago,“ Mitchell says.
“It becomes more difficult to squeeze more milk out, but I think that is where we need to be. The successful dairymen are ahead of the game. They’re finding all those new efficiencies.” PD