The search for efficiency is a journey. As margins tighten, many dairy farmers are taking a magnifying glass to their herds to find cost-saving opportunities.

Focusing on efficiency can help your cows reach key milestones more effectively and help you strike gold and attain, or exceed, your milk production goals.

Let’s start digging! Here are a few areas to start exploring your herd efficiency.

Start with income over feed cost

If efficiency is your end goal, then knowing your feed costs can help you. Feed cost per hundredweight (cwt) of milk is a key indicator of economic efficiency. Do you know the value of each additional pound of milk? That’s where income over feed cost (IOFC) comes into play.

Calculating your IOFC allows you to build more cost-efficient rations by estimating how much income you could gain from a ration change. All you need to get started is your feed cost and milk income on a per-cow, per-day basis across the group or herd, depending on the animals affected by the change.


A weighted (proportioned) average on a per-cow, per-day basis of actual dry matter intake (DMI) and cost per pound of dry matter provide the best information. Once you have these numbers, it’s just simple math.

Here’s an example:

Number of lactating cows: 625
Milk price: $16.44
Feed cost: $0.12 per pound of dry matter (DM)
DMI: 55 pounds

To calculate milk income: 51,875 pounds of milk shipped / 625 cows = 83 pounds per cow per day

83 pounds per cow per day x $16.44 per cwt / 100 = $13.65 per cow per day

To calculate feed costs: 55 pounds of DM per cow per day x $0.12 per pound of DM = $6.60 per cow per day

To calculate IOFC: $13.65 - $6.60 = $7.05 IOFC per cow per day

Including milk production and current price per cwt in the IOFC calculation gives you the return on investment for making a feed change. As market prices fluctuate, understanding the impact a ration change can have on your bottom line can help you make progress toward improved feed cost efficiency.

Dig deeper with DME

Looking at dry matter efficiency (DME) is another consideration. This benchmark helps you understand how efficiently your cows convert feed into milk.

DME is more closely related to dry matter intake (DMI) and milk changes, as compared to IOFC. In fact, neither feed costs nor milk price has any impact on DME. In general, however, as DME improves, it’s typical for IOFC to improve.

Both IOFC and DME have value, but it’s best to remember they measure different aspects of efficiency. When evaluating actual values or changes in DME, it’s best to look at trends.

Some key factors that impact DME are breed, parity, days in milk (DIM), season and bodyweight changes. For example, a first-calf heifer doesn’t have the same intake or milk as a mature cow. And a cow late in lactation typically eats more feed than needed while early lactation cows often use body reserves to support milk.

Analyzing individual group DME can help you determine more precise needs of each group and make more efficient use of ration ingredients.

Strike gold with individual focus

DM efficiency can be a valuable measurement for the entire herd or various groups. But each cow’s nutritional needs may not be the same as the cow eating next to her. It’s best to keep in mind individual cows’ needs and grouping strategies to help more cows reach peak efficiency of converting feed into milk. This is especially true for pre-peak animals and those in their last 100 days of lactation.

So how do you do that? Dig into your data to compare rations and production levels over time. Make sure to compare apples to apples. Benchmarks like DMI likely are lower in summer compared to winter. Consider the maturity of your herd.

For example, are you comparing 30 percent first-calf heifers to 45 percent? Comparing changes over time will help you focus on achieving improved herd and cow efficiencies.

Both feed cost and efficiency can be challenging to navigate, but good data can lead to great results for you and your cows. Work with your nutritionist to dig a little deeper into your data and map your route to efficiency.  end mark

Kevin Dill