Managing feed costs from the field to the feed bunk

by Stephen Wagner
“Making silage is like making wine. An excellent winemaker cannot make fine wine from bad grapes. And a bad winemaker will certainly make bad wine from good grapes.” That was the opening gambit and theme setter from presenter Robert Fry, DVM, at a breakout session at Pennsylvania’s 2013 Dairy Summit. After graduating from the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine in 1977, Fry began a bovine veterinary practice on the Delmarva Peninsula. His career interest has always centered on production and health issues of dairy cows. In 1994, after years of working in traditional dairy operations, he was convinced that a healthy alternative was to manage and feed cows with the principles of Managed Intensive Grazing. To that extent Fry has become a partner in a grazing, seasonal breeding Jersey herd in Kennedyville, MD. He continues to practice veterinary medicine on dairy herds in that area and provides consulting services to producers in the Northeast U.S. “If you can feed Jersey cows on grass, and if you can also feed Jersey cows in confinement, feeding Holstein cows becomes quite a bit simpler.” Citing one particular slide in his presentation, he added that the “Jersey cow can work well in a Holstein herd, and actually props up the Holsteins.”
Fry suggests that if you want to end up with good silage, you’ve got to start with haylage that is made rapidly, cut and harvested within a 24 to 36 hour period at the correct moisture. Bring it in from the fields fast, whether you are going into upright silos or trench silos. In trench silos, be sure to get it packed. In an example cited by Fry, he told how one farmer was able to pack 22 pounds per cubic foot which is tremendous packing, “tremendous density which gives this producer much greater storage capacity and a higher quality product.” However, Fry notes that it is a game he plays to not put very much reliance in any specific forage sample. “Every forage sample you take is wrong!” He hastens to add that it is not because you’ve done something wrong in taking the sample, nor is it because the laboratory has done something wrong. Rather, it is just normal error in sampling and lab protocol. If you take multiple samples and average them you are more likely to be right than any given sample. “If I’m working with six samples,” Fry offered as illustration, “and using their average, it might not be right but it is closer to being right than any one of those six samples.” In other words, use averages in balancing the diet. You can also have a greater impact on the wellness of your diet by having the correct dry matter, even more than having the correct protein or correct fiber. Dry matter percentage on the farm should be routine protocol.
Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences’ Dairy Risk-Management newsletter discussed Managing Income Over Feed Costs four years ago. Part of that equation was feeding cows who won’t eat, for whatever reason.

“Dairy rations consist of two basic components: homegrown and purchased feeds,” it reports in Calculating Feed Cost per Lactating Cow per Day. “These can be further divided into forages (hay, corn silage, and hay-crop forage), concentrates (cereal grains, protein sources, minerals, and vitamins), and by-products (distiller’s grains, soy hulls, and bakery products). Many combinations of feedstuffs can be used to develop balanced rations. To simplify the calculation of daily feed costs, batch feed weights, the number of cows fed, and their respective prices can be used to calculate the daily feed cost per cow. Feed refusals are not excluded from the calculation because it costs money to feed the lactating cow whether she consumes the feed or not. Information needed for this section is as follows:
• Batchweight of ingredients fed to the lactating herd or the various milking cow groups if the herd is fed a total mixed ration (TMR)
• Individual ingredient amounts per day per cow for componentfed herds; break the herd into number of cows representing average milk production and number of cows representing peak milk production (more than 20 pounds over average milk production)
• Feed prices for all ingredients (forages, grain mixes, and commodities) fed to lactating cows.”
The biggest expense on any dairy is feed cost. It can also be the most significant factor in the difference between 70 pounds and 90 pounds per cow per day, according to Sean Jones, a Maryland dairy producer. “Because so many of us in the northeast grow our own feed, it gives us an advantage,” Jones says. “Relative to other areas that don’t do that, I think that same model is becoming more prevalent. It can have a huge impact on the over-all dollars an operation generates.
“We planted corn from 88 days to 118 days maturity. That gave us a big range on the corn that we planted. We planted some specifically early to harvest early to give us silage in the bunk that we could start working with. The intent all along was to come in with a second crop. We also plantedsome shorter season grain varieties as well. And we also added some acres.”
Dairymen study charts a lot. They look at digital readouts of milk production, how much milk is produced per day, per milking, per cow. Some find it hard to believe that differences of one-tenth of whatever can make a massive cost difference. After all, isn’t the idea to make feed cost effective rather than a liability?

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