Managing Feed Costs in Today’s World!
Wade Deaken and Mark G. Cameron, Ph.D. | Cargill Animal Nutrition

Imagine a world where corn grain is $375/MT, barley grain is $250/MT, DDG’s are $350/MT, soybean meal is $650/MT and canola meal is $415/MT.  This is your world today in Western Canada!  We have spent lots of time the past 4-6 weeks with dairy producers talking about diet design, and developing strategies to maintain reasonable cow productivity while achieving your goals for:

–          Daily milk yield
–          Consistent milk component percentages and daily yields
–          Getting cows bred and pregnant (maintaining reproductive performance)

What will be your strategies to reduce total feed costs on an individual cow level?  When establishing a plan to manage high feed costs, producers must leave no stone unturned when looking at potential solutions to the age-old paradox:  “How do I reduce my feed bill but increase my milk cheque?”

Here are some nutrition-based strategies that may be a good fit for your farm, in an effort to reduce feed cost while sustaining profitable production and herd health:

If using a single TMR for lactating cows, go to a 2 or 3 TMR feeding program

  • Introduce a High group to pin-point expensive feed products such as protected fats and amino acids to the cows that truly need these extra nutrients.
  • Introduce a two-group dry cow program to target the nutritional requirements of Prefresh cows and to drive dry matter intake both pre- and post-calving.
  • Allows you to target feed additives to specific groups of cows with the highest return on investment.

Review all feed additives in current diet(s)

  • Feed additives are often the most expensive products purchased by a dairy farm.  Why are you using these additives?
  • Incorporate key/necessary additives into a top-dress that can be individually fed to fresh and high producing cows.

Look at lowering the total protein level of the diet

  • Lots of single TMR’s are at 17.2-17.5% crude protein (CP), reduce to 16.8-17.0% CP to save some dollars on protein cost.
  • Pay attention to energy/protein interactions in the rumen to achieve production goals with a lower protein diet.  Focus on rumen microbial efficiency!

Testing all on-farm forages, grains and purchased commodities

  • In times of high feed costs “book-values” should not be relied upon in the formulation of diets.

Regularly check TMR load cells for accuracy and do weekly dry matter testing on silages

  • Over-feeding protein and/or mineral supplements in these times can be very costly; under-feeding can be even more costly!

Reduce shrink!!!

  • Harvest silages at appropriate moisture level and inoculate to accelerate fermentation.
  • Pack silages extensively at harvest, immediately cover with oxygen barrier and weights (tires, sand-bags, etc.).
  • Improve bunk management by properly using a defacer to reduce back-end heating of silages at feed-out.
  • Keep purchased grains and commodities under cover and out of the elements to reduce losses and spoilage.  Commodity sheds can result in 5-10% shrink loss!

Introduce/increase the level of Monensin Sodium in the diet

  • Results in more efficient milk production in higher forage-based lactating diets.
  • Target feeding rate of 275-300mg/cow/day.

Weigh left-over feed to accurately measure daily refusal rate

  • Target 5% daily refusal on once a day feeding.
  • Target 2-3% daily refusal on 2X feeding.
  • Target 0-1% daily refusal with your low production group.

Management approaches to reduce feed costs while maintaining herd performance:

Go from twice daily to 3X milking to reduce the number of cows in the milking herd

  • Often an 8-10% increase in milk production can be obtained.

Introduce more management groups within the herd

  • Fresh, mature-cow and first lactation groups.
  • Fresh, high and low production groups.

Breed heifers earlier to target age at first calving to be 22-24 months of age

  • Results in the opportunity to aggressively cull low producing cows in the milking herd; resulting in higher herd production.
  • Reduces total feed costs from birth to first calving.

There are many other strategies that producers and nutritionists can utilize to maintain production goals while reducing the cost of purchased feeds.  Producers must recognize that in an attempt to reduce feed costs, on-farm management practices may need to change.

The drought in the US Midwest will continue to drive commodity prices upward, with little doubt that prices will not decrease until next crop year.  Dairy producers must look at all options to maximize profit this winter.  A nutritionally sound feeding program and good management have always been the keys to success in the dairy industry; high feed prices do no change that, but they do require producers and nutritionists to look differently at nutrition/management practices and how they interact with one another.  Talk to your nutritionist about the various feeding and management strategies that you can use to maintain your herd’s productivity and profitability in the current commodity market.


Summer 2018


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