by George Looby, DVM
The New England Dairy Conference changed venues for 2013 with the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon, CT playing host to this year’s event. On March 11, the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Animal Science and Cooperative Extension System presented the Connecticut Dairy Seminar of the New England Dairy Conference. Several New England states act jointly to present meetings in their respective states to keep travel distances minimal, costs down and deliver essentially the same message to dairymen and dairywomen in each state.
Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Reviczky delivered an update on the Dairy Support Bill that compensates Connecticut Dairy Farmers when the price of milk falls below a certain preset level. Public Act No. 09-229 is the Milk Producer (Dairy Sustainability) Act which compensates farmers when the price of milk falls below 82 percent of the cost of production for a New England State (VT). The grant payment is equal to the difference between the minimum sustainable monthly cost of production and the “federal pay price” derived from the Federal Milk Order for the Hartford zone. If the total cost of the calculated payments exceeds the amount of money in the agricultural sustainability, account grant payments are made on a proportional basis based on the farms level of production. The payment for the October to December period will $1.96/cwt. The commissioner said that given the condition of the state’s finances, the program may have to take a hit, together with most other state programs. At this time there are studies being conducted to develop better numbers to determine true costs of production, with numbers from Connecticut and Massachusetts rather than Vermont.
Following the commissioner’s update, Dr. Andrew introduced the featured speaker of the day Dr. Bill Weiss, professor of dairy cattle nutrition in the Department of Animal Science at Ohio State Research & Development Center in Wooster, OH. Dr. Weiss’ main areas of interest are factors influencing manure and nutrient excretion by dairy cattle, relationships between vitamins and minerals and the health of dairy cows, and the effect of diet variability on the productivity of cows and the profitability of dairy farms.
In his morning presentation, Dr. Weiss’ addressed the need to control feed costs in today’s economy, a need best met by employing a number of interrelated strategies. Strict adherence to age at first calving can affect considerable savings over the course of a year. By decreasing the age at first calving from 26 to 24 months in a 100 cow herd with a 30 percent replacement rate, a herd will need six fewer replacements per year, thus affecting a considerable saving in feed cost plus the sale of unneeded heifers. Several factors enter into the control of feed costs, the first consideration being herd structure or the way in which cows are grouped according to their level of production and/or their stage of lactation. Dr Weiss stressed that cows require nutrients, not feeds, thus it is the ingredients that make up the ration that determines which of several possible combinations is the most profitable. Several questions must be asked when determining the best mix, the first of which would be its cost: is it cheap? What combination of feeds will produce the most milk? What combination will have the lowest cost per ton? What combination will have the highest income over feed cost (IOFC)?
In any given market there will always be some feeds that need to be scrutinized very carefully as fluctuations in price can be dramatic within very short time spans. On the date of the lecture, “bargin feeds” included bakery products, corn grain, and corn silage. At the other end of the scale were canola, citrus pulp and soyhull. A rule suggested for a group of cows in the largest production group would be to develop a ration that is balanced for 1.2 times the average production for that group. This should cover the nutritional needs of those cows milking at or close to their peak.
Rumen degradable protein is relatively inexpensive, is important for optimal rumen function and should be fed at the rate of 10.5 percent to 11 percent of DM. Rumen undegradable protein is very expensive and should be formulated at 1.25 actual milk yield.
Shrink or better stated waste is the feed that is never consumed by a cow. We have all seen round bales overwintering in a field with the outer third fit only for mulch or compost. A casual walk through any feeding area will reveal feed either spilled at the time of feeding or was tossed out of the bunk by cows. Bunk management represents another area where careful feeding is important. A bit of correction in the manner in which feed is fed can do much to correct waste. One estimate is that 15 percent of feed is never consumed by cows. Maintaining a feed inventory is necessary as one looks ahead to the date at which new roughage becomes available and determines if there is enough to carry the herd to that time.
Dr. Boris E. Bravo-Ureta of UConn’s Department of Agricultural Economics summarized some of the issues confronting farmers in Connecticut, loss of available farmland number one on his list. Measures such as the farmland preservation program can serve to ease the pressure from development with additional measures being reviewed. He reviewed cost of production numbers from several Connecticut farms that he has computed and how they may be used in developing more realistic payments under the Dairy Sustainability Act.
After lunch and a visit to the exhibitors, Dr. Weiss resumed poising the question as to whether cows have a corn requirement. Dr. Weiss suggested that maybe they don’t, given that many beef cows live to a ripe old age and never eat a gram of starch. Dairy cows are quite another situation where they have been fed corn as the major source of energy for many, many years. Corn kernels are 72-75 percent starch, which makes them twice as digestable as fiber. It is a relatively cheap source of energy and it promotes more bacterial protein and generates less manure but is best fed within a rather narrow range of 24-26 percent, with overfeeding predisposing the cow to acidosis. When evaluating starch digestability, particle size is key to insuring maximum efficiency or complete utilization of available starch. The hardness (vitreousness) of corn plays an important role in determining starch digestability with flinty consistency considered the best.
Suggestions made to cope with the era of high priced corn included the use of more corn silage and less alfalfa, considering alternative starch sources, maximizing starch utilization and replacing some starch with byproduct NDF.
There are several calculations that have been developed that measure the level of feed efficiency in any given herd which will assist any dairyman. These are perhaps best obtained from your area dairy extension staff or nutritionist. As we move ahead in the area of dairy cattle nutrition, the body of information needed to make good decisions continues to increase, making it increasingly difficult for one person to make all judgments. It is more and more a team effort.
by George Looby, DVM