As we tackle the concept of whole-farm nutrient management in this issue it really comes to light how dairy producers today must perform an incredible balancing act throughout their entire operation.

While interviewing John Vrieze for the feature article in this issue, he mentioned to me that manure management at one time was a ½-hour chore on a dairy farm. Today, it can require one or more full-time positions on a dairy or, at the very least, hours of time each week to see that everything is being carried out according to plan.

It’s hard to determine where this balancing act begins on the dairy as it revolves full-cycle daily, monthly, yearly, etc. To start somewhere, let’s jump in at harvest. Nutrient values of the crops you’ve taken from the fields can be looked at pre-harvest or in storage to see what stage the crop is in and the nutrient content it will provide to your herd. Before you feed it to your cattle, it is again reviewed to create a perfectly balanced ration and perhaps to compare it to the pre-storage nutrient content to determine any losses.

These nutrient values are carefully calculated in a total mixed ration; then other feeds or supplements are added to create a mix that will maximize a cow’s nutrient needs for milk production and body maintenance. In balancing the ration it is very important not to overfeed the needs of the cow because it will result in a costly loss of nutrients, as well as manure containing higher levels of nutrients than your land and crops may require.

That very manure (and the different forms it may be in on your dairy – solids, liquids and anything in between) is tested for its nutrient values. Soils are tested to discover the amount of nutrients they’ll require to feed the next crop, and application is planned accordingly.


Now we’ve returned to the crops at the beginning of the cycle. A cycle that is far more intense than the ½-hour chore manure management used to be.

Dairymen may be responsible for carrying out this balancing act, but they certainly don’t have to go at it alone. Researchers and consultants have spent a lot of time learning about these nutrients and what is needed to feed each step of the process. Within these pages you’ll find tips from experts on how to keep your dairy’s nutrient cycle balanced.

And, just when you think it can’t get any more complicated, air emission regulations are on the horizon and with that will come the balancing of nutrients to reduce gaseous excretions and the components within. That is certainly a topic for another issue – our next issue of Ag Nutrient Management to be exact. ANM

Karen Lee
Editor for Ag Nutrient Management