Cut feed, not milk production

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Dairymen realize that cutting feed usually means milk production slacks off. That’s why Bill Weiss with Ohio State University’s Animal Sciences presented “Cutting Feed Costs Without Cutting Milk” as part of Hoard’s Dairyman’s webinar series recently, sponsored by Quality Liquid Feeds.

When producers are figuring out their income over feed costs, “What is cheapest is absolutely wrong,” Weiss said. “We have to get out of this mindset that cows require feed. Feed is packages of nutrients. They need nutrients. What package of nutrients is the best buy?”

To control costs, producers should consider ingredient selection, use of home-grown forage, grouping, rotation formulation specifications and feed wastage and shrink.

“When we compare feed, we have to base it on nutrients,” Weiss said. “Another thing you have to look at is all the nutrients. You have to remember local markets, even though corn and soy are natural commodities.”

Weiss views “bargain” feed, where the nutrient value exceeds the market price, to include corn grain, corn silage, corn gluten feed, hominy, and whole cottonseed. “Overpriced” feed, where the nutrient value is less than the market price, include alfalfa hay, blood meal, canola meal, citrus pulp, fish meal, molasses and tallow.

Farmers should also look at the effect on production and efficiency, variability, quality issues, and service and support provided by suppliers. They should also ask what the feed is supposed to do, if there’s research to support the assertion, how often it works and its return on investment.

“Look at the studies,” Weiss said. “What animals did they use? Heifers, mid-lactation or fresh cows?”

Many producers turn to corn silage; however, Weiss said good corn silage is almost always a cheap source of nutrients.

“I want to emphasize good,” he said. “If it’s chopped too early and is moldy, it’s not good. Forages can be a cheap and economical source of nutrients but they have to be good.”

Producers feeding alfalfa should also decide how many cuttings they’ll harvest in a summer.

“Quality and quantity are usually inversely related,” Weiss said.

More cuttings tend to reduce quality, in other words; however, timing the cutting can improve each cutting. Still, Weiss said, “yield beats okay quality but great quality beats yield” because producers won’t have to feed as much great quality.

“Diets that are inadequate in nutrients are almost always less profitable than more expensive diets that are adequate in nutrients,” Weiss said.

Wasted feed and shrink also cost producers a significant amount of money.

“Look around at wherever you’re losing feed before the cows get a chance to eat it,” Weiss said. “Feed that is wasted costs exactly the same as the feed they eat.”

The difference is that the feed that’s eaten benefits the animals and, ultimately, the farm. To make sure more of that feed is consumed, farmers need to store and serve feed properly.

Cows allowed to walk in the feed alley can eliminate in it, which wastes feed.

“We used to say a couple inches was okay,” Weiss said. “Now we say 6 to 12 inches is a good way to get good feed-out. Push up feed several times a day. If you feed 50 pounds of dry matter, you’ll still have a pound or two left. The appropriate amount of weigh back is important. If you feed weigh back to heifers, you’re still losing value.”

Improper storage can mean spoilage, which wastes feed. By making hay at the right time and storing it dry, and keeping other commodities under full cover, farmers can prevent spoiling.

“Maintain proper inventories, especially for wet feeds,” Weiss said.

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