With forecasts for lower milk prices in 2015, many dairy producers will be examining their budgets and management practices for possible cost-saving measures. Dairy health and economics experts caution against cost reductions in key areas – such as nutrition and cow comfort – that may compromise herd health and lead to lower milk production, offsetting any short-term savings.
“Trying to save even 15 cents per cow per day could result in increased somatic cell counts, delays in getting cows pregnant and other health issues that cost significantly more than 15 cents per day,” says Mike Hutjens, Ph.D., dairy nutritionist from the University of Illinois. “Dairy farmers must make economical, sound feeding decisions which return a profit when milk prices are at either $24 or $17.”
Dr. Hutjens recommends five dairy nutrition tips during seasons of low milk prices:
- Be precise in meeting nutrient requirements to support current milk yield, including rumen undegraded protein and added sources of fats and oils.
- Shop for good feed value, including forages and by-product feeds.
- Strategically include feed additives that have a research-based profitable benefit-to-cost ratio of 2:1 or greater.
- Maintain a feed efficiency of more than 1.5 pounds of milk per pound of dry matter.
- Increase your milk check by maintaining milk components, somatic cell count premiums and quality bonuses based on bacteria count.
Glenn Holub, Ph.D., dairy technology manager for Phibro Animal Health Corporation, adds that cows notice sudden diet changes. The resulting stress may challenge a cow’s immune system, compromising herd health and performance. “Dairy producers and their consultants should thoroughly review diet composition, including forage and grain quality, and sources of off-farm feeds and by-products,” Dr. Holub says. “But, sudden adjustments may result in reduced nutrient density and dry matter intakes, therefore leading to lower milk production.”
Dr. Holub says changes that may reduce cow comfort may also lead to stress on the herd. “Producers may be inclined to add more cows to maintain cash flow, so they need to watch their stocking density,” he explains. “Too many cows and too few stalls could lead to problems with adequate stall availability. Once we see lying time start to be reduced, we know rumination and cud chewing will decline.’’
Similarly, he adds, it may be tempting to cut back on bedding to stretch the normal supply of sand or other materials an extra day or two. “However, that can result in wet and dirty stalls, raising the risks of higher somatic cell counts and clinical mastitis,” Dr. Holub warns. “All of these issues may create additional pressure on the immune system.”
“Dairy producers should remember that high-producing cows always make money regardless of the milk price – since dairy cows convert one pound of dry matter intake into two pounds of milk,” Dr. Hutjens says. “So it’s important to continue focusing on milk production and not be tempted to take short-term shortcuts that could jeopardize herd health and productivity.”
Research and field studies support feeding OmniGen-AF® to all dry, pre-fresh and lactating cows to help support normal immune function in the face of expected and unexpected stress events. Continual use supports normal immune function, which may help result in fewer health events, a lower somatic cell count and fewer cases of mastitis and metritis. This, in turn, may lead to higher milk production and fewer unplanned culls.