Last year has been noted as one of the most economically challenging years in the last 30 years. In his last Dairy Day address before retiring as a University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist at the end of the year, Mike Hutjens reviewed lessons learned in 2009 and throughout his extension career. There was some good news for producers in the state. Illinois ended the year with the same number of cows as it had when it started.

Thanks to government support, Hutjens estimated dairy producers there only suffered a loss of $2 per hundredweight.

A wet corn crop, however, will be a concern as producers make their way through 2010. He reminded the audience in Harvard, Illinois, on January 21 to watch for mycotoxin signs like loose fecal discharges and reduced dry matter intake of more than 2 pounds per cow. Mycotoxins can also lead to immune suppression, rumen disorders and hormonal-like changes (udder development and reduced fertility).

He said corn could be tested post-storage to see that mycotoxin levels do not exceed the maximum recommended for feeding (DON or vomitoxin, 6.0 ppm; aflatoxin, 20 ppb; T-2 toxin, 100 ppb; zearalenone, 300 ppb). Yet he didn’t recommend it because so far the results on feed tested have been all over the board and didn’t justify the testing expense. If testing is going to be done, Hutjens said to test for vomitoxin because it serves as a marker that not only is it present, but others are there as well.

“Keep your eyes open,” he said. “Levels in those bins are going to take off when the weather warms this spring.”


Producers should not only watch for mycotoxins in silage and shell corn but also in distillers grain and corn gluten feed.

If mycotoxins are found, Hutjens suggested the use of a flow agent. These could be clay-based compounds for aflatoxin or yeast cell wall extracts for T-2 toxins, DON and zearalenone. “You may need to double or triple levels of these products,” he said, due to the higher levels of mycotoxins anticipated. “After a week or 10 days, back down and watch the cows.”

Flow agents for mycotoxins are just one of many feed additives that producers have questioned using in light of the economic times. There are six additives Hutjens strongly recommended using. “Every one of these has a five-to-one response. If you put a nickel in, you get a quarter back,” he said. He also realizes not everyone may have six nickels to put in and prioritized them in order of importance.

  1. Monensin
  2. Yeast cultures
  3. Silage inoculants
  4. Organic selenium, zinc and copper
  5. Sodium bicarb/S-carb
  6. Biotin

More additives should be used on an as-needed basis. “It depends on what the situation on your farm is looking like,” Hutjens said. Those additives include: Propylene glycol, rumen-protected niacin, mycotoxin flow agents, acid-based preservatives, calcium propionate, rumen-protected choline and anionic products.

Trace minerals are an important addition to dairy cow rations. Less-than-adequate levels can impact immunity, enzyme function, growth and fertility and be a long-term risk to your herd.

The consideration of dietary cutbacks came as feed costs reached 60 percent of a farm’s expenses in 2009. High-quality forages helped some producers keep their feed costs lower than others.

“In a perfect world you’d feed two-thirds of the ration as corn silage,” Hutjens said. “It’s the cheapest way to feed cows in Illinois.”

He challenged everyone in the audience to find a tenth of a point in feed efficiency (pounds of milk divided by pounds of dry matter). That tenth of a point could result in an additional 20 cents or more per day.

Another way to save money is to reduce the risk of shrink. One option is to utilize a pre-blend. This keeps a uniform mix and helps with inventory control.

Watching weighbacks can help reduce feed waste. Leftover feed should not exceed 1 or 2 percent of the total dry matter offered, Hutjens said. Some producers may want to consider feeding to an empty bunk, especially for the low string. If this is done, feed must be available within 30 minutes prior to milking or the next feed delivery and each cow should have access to 24 inches of bunk space. To find the right timing of an empty bunk feed program, Hutjens suggested taking time to read the bunks – give the remaining feed a score of 1 percent, 2 percent, 3 percent, etc. one hour before milking.

Larger dairies typically feed two or more group TMRs to reduce feed costs, allow for management targets and avoid heavy cows. Hutjens said the economic response of the herd needs to be considered when considering multiple TMRs, including changes in milk yield when moving cows, body condition score, use of early lactation feed additives and age of the cows. Cows that drop more than 3 pounds of milk production may end up costing a producer more money than what they are saving on a different ration.

Looking back

As Hutjens took some time to review his 30 years at the University of Illinois he noticed a number of changes in the dairy industry. Back then dairy farms were beginning to specialize, registered dairy cattle was the focus, family farms were based on family labor, dairy farms were based on generations, high-moisture corn was the new feed, alfalfa was the “queen” of forages and total mixed rations were replacing magnetic and electronic feeders.

Since 1980, milk production per cow jumped from 11,000 pounds to more than 18,000 pounds.

Looking at 2010, Hutjens said he sees 1.2 million pounds of milk per full-time equivalent and a more urban lifestyle impacting today’s dairy structure. Alternative labor sources or robotic milking units are being sought to fill employment needs on dairies. There is an emphasis on longevity in the herd, and crossbreeding and genomics are familiar terms. More farms are also considering on-farm processing.

Hutjens peered ahead at the next 30 years. The industry will become more vertically integrated with producer-controlled processing and some on-farm processing. Profit margins will be squeezed. Consumer image and food safety will continue to be concerns. Forage and byproduct- based feeds will replace any human foods, like corn and soybeans, remaining in rations.

He agreed with an estimate by Cornell University in 1990 that predicted a continued drop in dairy farms. It said that the total number of dairy farms in 1990 would be 105,170, in 2010 – 45,777 and in 2020 – 14,721.

Factors contributing to the future of the dairy industry noted by Hutjens include environment, animal care, greenhouse gases, the definition of sustainability, food safety and designer “food” products like omega fatty acids, protein fractions, minerals, etc.

He wrapped up the day by saying it’s been a great 30-year run at the University of Illinois and in the U.S. dairy industry. PD

PHOTO: Mike Hutjens gives his final Illinois Dairy Day address as an extension dairy specialist. He has filed paperwork for an official retirement as of December 31, 2010. Photo by Karen Lee

Karen Lee