I recently got a phone call from a nearby dairyman, “Joe,” inquiring if I would give him a second opinion on his rations. His neighbor, who is one of my longtime customers, had shared a story of me talking about “flip phone” opportunities in rations that save money and improve animal performance. I smiled about the comparison of my old flip phone to modern day smartphones. It was a great reminder that nutritional choices in your rations may need updating, just like getting rid of the old phone you used for many years.

Michael neil
Nutritional Consultant / Progressive Dairy Solutions
Michael received both DVM and MBA degrees from Purdue University and has over 30 years of industr...

The next morning, I stopped by Joe’s place to follow up on his request. The good news was Joe had printed out his complete ration information including his base mix ingredients. Unfortunately, dairy producers often do not know the individual ingredient and inclusion information within their base mix. Still other times, producers are told their base mix is proprietary,” preventing them from finding “flip phone” opportunities. Getting the full ingredient and inclusion information is the first fundamental step in the process.

Old technology

Reviewing Joe’s printed mixes, we began to look for economic opportunities to improve his margins. His diets revealed several very common opportunities that I routinely see when reviewing diets. The first opportunity was looking for ingredients with old technologyIngredients like “binders” and “yeasts” are examples of old technologies that have been improved immensely through research and processing techniques. Compared to older versions that have been on the market for years, these newer versions make them more bioactive in the gut than previous versions. Additionally, processing techniques require lower inclusion rates and therefore take up “less space” in a ration, allowing for more nutrients to be delivered to the high-producing animal. 

Excessive levels

The next opportunity I saw in Joe’s diets were possible excessive ingredient levels. Excessive inclusion of key ingredients that are not supported by research significantly impact base mix costs. A common example is vitamin E levels fed at higher transition levels (supported by research) throughout the entire lactation and likely not a good investment. Other nutrients such as selenium are regulated by the FDA and result in both a regulatory risk and cost consideration when feeding at excessive levels. Still another example old technology mindset I see is supplementing phosphorus at higher levels to reach a higher level or ratio believed to be necessary for the cow nutritionally or to improve reproduction. We now know those levels are not necessary or beneficial and create concerns for current nutrient management plans.


The last costly opportunity we saw in Joe’s rations were duplication of function. I often see two or more ingredients with the same active ingredient included in rations because of confusion of brand names or marketing campaigns. Inclusion of nutrients and supplements in your ration should be dictated on the ingredient’s function and proven availability and not the brand name or marketing claims. This common duplication error of nutrients represented 10 cents per head per day in his rations. 


Combination of technologies

The “smartphone” opportunities I discussed with Joe included improving margins with a few simple strategies including combination of technologies. Much like an iPhone that serves as a phone, calculator, video and alarm clock device, many new-generation products contain multiple technologies in one package. In addition to reducing package size as mentioned above, research has shown many of these deliver “synergistic” results that the individual components cannot deliver alone. It is important to realize that every ingredient in a ration has a margin to account for shipping, shrink and handling. Three to four fewer ingredients may translate to another 15 to 20 cents per head per day compared to individual ingredients. 

Immune response and inflammation

One of the most intriguing opportunities for me is management of immune response and inflammation. As a veterinarian, I was trained to “treat” a number of metabolic and disease events during the transition period with antibiotics and “boost” immune response with vaccines. We now understand that many diseases can be managed by reducing inflammatory responses using newer bioactive feed ingredients. Additionally, the animal may be better able to respond to vaccines given at strategic times of lactation. As a result, many herds have reduced the incidence of clinical events, reducing treatment and labor costs. 

Nutritional research

We continue to learn how to increase dairy margins with nutritional research. Our understanding of how to package and deliver specific nutrients has allowed us to increase dairy margins. An example is feeding different types and ratios of fats (fatty acids) during lactation stages allows us to improve production, components and health events. Another example is our understanding of protein nutrition and providing limiting amino acids during key periods of lactation to improve performance and health. Knowing when and how much of these technologies to include in a ration unlocks new opportunities. 

In summary, we have all benefited from “flip phone” technology and likely resisted change to the newer all-in-one device that makes us more efficient. The same concept applies to your ration ingredients – make sure your ration ingredients are backed by research and incorporate newer technology to improve animal performance and maximize your profit margins. 

Reviewing your ration ingredients with a nutritional consultant is a great exercise to request on an annual basis to uncover smartphone opportunities.