A successful dairy operation entails a careful balancing of many small details, while keeping a clear focus on the items that will boost profit per cow and lead to greater long-term financial strength. How to make this happen on a continuing basis is a challenging part of dairy management.

The downside: a cow’s profit potential can suffer in a variety of ways. Metabolic disorders during the transition and early lactation periods cause lost production through fewer pounds of milk, protein or fat. When cows back off on dry matter intake (DMI), their health is compromised and veterinary costs increase. Excessive culling due to reproductive problems that cause low herd pregnancy rates can turn into big losses on a dairy.

The upside: utilizing feed ingredients and ration-balancing tools already available during a cow’s key life cycle stages can cut these losses and easily increase profit by at least $100 per cow, with the potential for more. Cows with better feed utilization will increase total pounds of milk along with milk fat and protein. Tuning up replacement heifer rations with ingredients that boost rumen microbial fermentation results in earlier-calving heifers, which in turn saves dollars on rearing costs. When heifers are well-grown and begin their productive career earlier, the dairy has potential to gain more dollars faster.

A crucial step in reaching that additional $100 or more profit per cow lies in understanding how significant phases of the production life cycle – heifers, close-up, fresh and lactating – are interdependent. How you manage your cows in one phase can dramatically affect what happens in another phase. In order for cows to hit and maintain peak milk and components during the lactating phase, for example, more than just optimal nutrition during that stretch of 200+ days is required. Cows need to be well-managed throughout the three-week close-up and three-week fresh phases that lead up to the lactating phase.

Dairy managers need to focus on the entire life cycle in terms of feeding and nutrition and understand how to maximize each cow’s profitability in every phase. Improving key life cycle events in your herd, such as age at first calving and pregnancy rates, is part of the process that affects profits.


Heifer phase
The process of maximizing profitability starts with young stock. Feeding a rumen fermentation enhancer throughout this phase helps heifers utilize feed to grow to their full potential. A rumen fermentation enhancer works by providing rumen bacteria the right building blocks to optimize feed efficiency, resulting in heifers that achieve the ideal size and weight to reach breeding age earlier and enter the milking string sooner.

An independent study concluded that it takes nearly 9,000 pounds less milk to pay off the rearing cost of heifers calving at 24 months compared to heifers calving at 30 months. At $10.50 per hundredweight (cwt) for milk, that equates to $945 per heifer. And a related Penn State University study showed that reducing the age at first calving by one month saves $140 in rearing cost for each heifer that calves.

Based on the Penn State findings, if a dairy operation can decrease age at first calving from 26 to 22 months, for example, the additional profit works out to $560 per heifer.

Close-up and fresh phase
Taking steps when a cow is close to calving to minimize milk fevers and retained placentas should ultimately boost pregnancy rates and milk production in the fresh and lactation phases of a cow’s life cycle.

In two different studies, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids fed during the close-up and fresh phases increased pregnancy rates by 5 percent, with 2 percent of that increase attributed to the effects of feeding omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids prepartum. A 2 percent increase in pregnancy rate valued at $70 per cow per year, less $3.15 for feeding essential fatty acids for 21 days, equates to $66.85 per cow.

Just six months after starting more than half the 25,000 cows he oversees on a feeding supplement that contains essential fatty acids, Don Shumaker saw pregnancy rates climbing substantially in even the most well-managed herds. Shumaker is an independent nutritionist based in Blue Springs, Mississippi. One herd, for example, moved from a 17 to 20 percent pregnancy rate to a three-month range of 29 to 34 percent after adding the supplement to the ration, says Shumaker. No other significant management changes occurred during this time, he adds.

Also helpful to keeping cows healthy and productive throughout their life cycle phases is adding anions, with a rumen fermentation enhancer, to prepartum transition cow diets starting three weeks before calving and utilizing a safe form of potassium carbonate in fresh cow diets. A big limiting factor in milk production is a potential potassium deficiency, especially in early lactation. Some cows are extremely deficient, which lowers DMI, milk production and milk components. Including a source of potassium without chloride or sulfur in lactating diets can solve potassium deficiency without the negative effects of chlorides or sulfates.

Shumaker works with several clients to incorporate anions into diets, especially in the Southeast where so many different forages are utilized in dairy rations. “This manages the variables so we can manage cows through transition better,” says Shumaker.

“If we can transition cows more smoothly with the use of anions we cut down on metabolic diseases, and we have more cows that peak quicker and higher,” Shumaker adds. “The bottom line is added profits, through more production early in lactation.”

Lactating phase
As cows continue on through their lactation, aiding them in maintaining production peaks, as well as milk components, is key. Doing this translates into more dollars. Maintaining the highest possible DMI without sacrificing feed efficiency throughout the lactating stage, or final 200 days of lactation, allows cows to remain as healthy as possible, helping them to prepare for calving and their next lactation.

Cows fed a rumen fermentation enhancer throughout the final 200 days of lactation responded with 3.4 pounds more milk per day in a university research trial. That means $71.40 in added income, based on $10.50 per cwt milk. Subtracting the $48 feed ingredient cost leaves a net profit per cow of $23.40. The rumen fermentation enhancer makes it possible for cows to remain at higher milk and component levels throughout their entire lactation.

Independent nutritionists like Shumaker find these effects of a rumen fermentation enhancer quite plausible. He explains that it has helped raise overall production in herds that are feeding it, both on peaks and total production. He credits the rumen fermentation enhancer for some of the highest peaks ever in herds he oversees throughout Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Colorado.

Research shows that a rumen fermentation enhancer improves income-over-feed cost by improving rumen efficiency. Studies at West Virginia University showed these products improved microbial protein output by 20 percent. More microbial protein production leads to improved feed efficiency, more milk production and higher protein and fat in milk.

University and on-farm research trials showed improved milk production of up to 10 pounds of milk per cow per day when a rumen fermentation product was fed. The added milk production means a return on investment of up to $2.67 for every dollar invested when used in diets where the carbohydrate fraction of the ration was highly fermentable. When used for its amino acid contribution, this type of product can replace expensive bypass protein feeds in lactating cow rations.

Methionine, an important amino acid, is often the first or second limiting nutrient in the diets of high-producing dairy cows. Since it’s essential to the synthesis of milk protein, limited methionine levels cause milk protein content to decrease and can reduce milk production.

Adding a more rumen-protected form of methionine that is absorbed in the small intestine maximizes the benefit to the cow. Feeding bypass methionine helps increase milk protein production and improves feed efficiency through better utilization of nitrogen.

Cows need positive DCAD levels throughout lactation. Providing the necessary cations needed so that DCAD levels are in the +25 to +35 range results in fewer metabolic diseases, improved DMI and, ultimately, higher milk production and components. The average milk response in three independent DCAD-balancing studies showed that cows produced 3.2 pounds more milk per day during the final 200 days of lactation when feed-grade potassium carbonate was included in their rations. That’s $67.20 more income per cow, based on $10.50 per cwt milk. Less feed ingredient costs of $22.50 it adds another $44.70 per cow per year.

Profit opportunities during the lactation phase alone can total $68 per cow per year when a rumen fermentation enhancer, bypass methionine and DCAD-balancing products are fed during the final 200 days of a cow’s lactation.

Combined with the added profit from feeding products to promote feed efficiency and growth in the heifer phase and keeping cows healthy and producing at their full potential during the transition, fresh and lactation phases, you can see how easily the profit adds up to $100 or more additional profit per cow per year. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request.

Elliot Block, Senior Manager, Central Technical Services, ARM & HAMMER Nutrition for Progressive Dairyman