During times of low milk prices, it is important to analyze the price of the feedstuffs you are using and fine-tune the management of various aspects of the dairy. What is the level of milk production on the dairy? Use or start a spreadsheet to monitor daily herd milk production. On a daily basis, keep track of the number of fresh cows, cows dried, cows died and cows beefed. Each month, weigh the cow’s milk. By tracking this information, you will be able to know your baseline for production and how it changes day to day according to feeding, environment or management changes.

The largest operating cost on a dairy is feed cost, averaging about 50 percent of the total cost of milk production. Work with a company or broker who can deliver quality feedstuffs on a consistent basis. On a routine basis, determine if you are long or short on current contracts and compare your contract price with spot prices. You may be able to sell a commodity or purchase additional amounts of a commodity at a favorable price in relationship to your current contract price. Monitor the moisture level of feedstuffs greater than 12 percent moisture. This information will help you optimize the use of ingredients in your ration in order to not over- or underfeed on a dry matter (DM) basis. When buying high-moisture feed ingredients, know their actual cost by determining the feed ratio. The feed ratio can be calculated by knowing the percent DM of the feedstuff and dividing DM into 90, to compare the cost on a 90 percent basis. For example, if wet distillers is 32 percent DM, 90/32 = 2.8. The feed ratio is 2.8-to-1. Then, $46 per ton feed is actually $130 per ton on a 90 percent DM basis.

Know the moisture level of the ration fed to the cows. The DM percent of the mix should be greater than 50 percent DM and less than 70 percent DM. In dry climates during the summer months, 5 to 10 percent water may need to be added in order to maintain desirable ration DM level. Sometimes less expensive feedstuffs can be added in place of a more expensive ingredient. In California, almond hulls would be an example of such an ingredient. In parts of Texas or New Mexico, use of peanut hulls can bring down the cost of the mix.

Evaluate your forages. Make sure your silages and haylages are harvested at the correct DM, well- packed, covered and sealed after packing. Test your forages for DM, protein, acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF), where the latter two calculate relative feed value. Determine the right blend of hay to feed. Allocate your highest quality hay to the fresh and high-producing cow pens where you will get the greatest return. The basis for maximum milk production is using quality forages.

Use a simple feeding program. A maximum of three mixes for the milk cows will work (fresh, high-producing cow and low-producing cow rations). It is easier to make and monitor changes with one or two rations. For the fresh cows, use the milk cow mix, or use the milk cow mix and feed 5 pounds per head per day of alfalfa hay each morning. If using two milk cow mixes, use the same dry grain premix for both rations.


Design or use a simple pen layout, based on breeding. Have all cows go through a fresh pen so you can check cows as they come up in milk. Have specific pens for A.I. breeding. To keep track of which cows are bred or pregnant, have a bull pen and a pregnant pen. Also, first-lactation animals perform better if they are housed separately. Another way to move cows from pen to pen is to keep cows together based on days in milk (DIM). The key is to keep similar cows together in a pen and to minimize the number of moves a cow must adjust to, especially in early lactation.

Maintain an economically balanced ration and make small changes, one at a time. Monitor all areas, evaluate what is happening and keep it simple. PD

Dr. Lawson Spicer for Progressive Dairyman