No one has to tell dairy producers and their advisers we are facing some very challenging times. Managing dairies in good times is tough; managing dairies in these economic conditions is extremely trying. Producers and their advisers who can best implement strategies that maximize efficiencies (feed and management) will be best prepared to weather the current economic storm. However, we must keep in mind that the things we do today can have an effect down the road and we must consider any negative effects those changes might have on future production and profitability.

Here are a few suggestions to consider. Each individual operation is different and considerations should be made to evaluate if the dairy can implement some of these suggestions. The herd’s nutritionist should be consulted regarding any of these suggestions.

  • Carefully evaluate and analyze feed ingredients, especially forages. Nutrient composition errors that lead to ration balancing errors can be very costly.
  • Measure dry matter content of wet feeds and make ration adjustments. Again, this can cause costly formulation errors.
  • If feeding a one-group TMR, re-evaluate this strategy. With lower milk prices, multiple rations with lower costs for lower-producing cows (while still meeting nutrient requirements) can save money.
  • If available, look to feed more corn silage. Typically, higher corn silage rations are more economical.
  • Consider using (or maybe using more) non-protein nitrogen (NPN), like urea. Rumen bacteria can very effectively use NPN as a nitrogen source to make bacterial protein that the cow can then use. Again, consult your nutritionist.
  • Re-evaluate the use of all ration ingredients. Ingredients that made sense six months ago may not today, both because of changes in feed ingredient costs and milk prices.
  • Closely evaluate and monitor feed efficiency (FE). FE is typically calculated as fat-corrected milk, divided by dry matter intake. Track FE by production groups, stage of lactation and lactation number. Higher-producing cows, earlier lactation cows and 2+ lactation cows will have higher FE’s. Improving FE within a herd by even 0.1 point can have a dramatic effect on income over feed costs.
  • Evaluate the use of all feed additives. Many feed additives can be very beneficial and have a positive return on investment (ROI). But a feed additive that had a 3:1 ROI when milk prices were $20/cwt will only be 1.5:1 with $10 milk. Look to feed additives that still maintain a ROI of 3:1 even with $10/cwt milk.

Any feed ingredient or ration changes should only be made after consultation with the nutritionist that works with the herd. They are most qualified to decide if these recommendations are applicable for a particular herd. Changes to feeding programs should be carefully considered, not only for current effects on production and profitability, but also for future profitability.

Tough economic times in the dairy industry require careful consideration of all management practices and norms. Many times, those management practices are still warranted, even with lower milk prices. However, sometimes certain practices must be evaluated and changed to weather the storm. PD

— Excerpts from Lallemand Animal Nutrition fact sheet

Jim Sullivan