by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
SENECA FALLS, NY — What you feed your dairy herd directly affects cash flow, according to Tom R. Overton, Ph.D, professor of Dairy Management in the Department of animal Science at Cornell University. Overton, who directs the Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY, presented “Feeding Strategies During Challenging Times” at the recent Empire Farm Days.
As milk prices remain low, dairymen need to manage more carefully. Overton offered five key focus areas:

  • Know and track income over feed cost (IOFC) and income over purchased feed cost (IOPurFC).
  • Make sure you’re optimizing use of homegrown forages and feeds.
  • Fine tune feeding management.
  • Strategically review rations.
  • Carefully review cow and heifer inventories and needs.

“It needs to be calculated, but it doesn’t need to be fancy,” Overton said.
He explained that IOFC can be calculated by subtracting the feed cost (total or purchased) from the net milk revenue.
“That’s more correlated with overall farm profitability than any other single metric,” Overton said.
While it may not seem important, only $3 per cow per day in a dairy of 100 head means more than $100,000 in a year.
“Higher income over feed has higher efficiency,” Overton said. “They have a higher cost per day, but they make more milk.”
The milk is also better quality with higher milk fat when the animals consume a better quality diet.
Operators can buy ready-made software such as Cornell PRO-DAIRY Profit Monitor, develop their own tracking in a spreadsheet in programs such as Excel, or even keep a written notebook; however, it’s vital to the farm’s success to track expenses in order to find ways to increase efficiency.
Optimizing the use of homegrown forages and feeds “rewards herds that focus on and achieve high forage quality,” Overton said. “Calculate forage neutral detergent fiber intake as a percentage of body weight. Milking cows typically can consume 0.9 to 1.0 percent of body weight as NDF.”
Since forage analysis technology can estimate the amount of indigestible NDF, dairymen can more accurately know how their ration affects milk.
“Feed the highest quality and digestibility forages to transition and high cows,” Overton added.
To fine tune feeding management, operators need to remember that the losses caused by feeding lower-quality feed “are often invisible,” Overton said. “Are you taking at least six inches —preferably 12 — per day from the silo face?”
Overton also said maintaining the mixing and other equipment related to feed ration is important for consistency of quality and quantity.
Farmers need to feed accurately and track the amount of ingredient shrink, too.
“Is fresh feed available when cows are done milking?” Overton posed. “Suggested refusal rates are 5 percent close-up and 2 to 3 percent early/high.”
He also said dairymen should resist the temptation to eliminate inoculants or preservatives.
“If silage, high moisture, or snaplage fermentation issues occur, it often affects milk fat,” Overton said.
Farmers also need to optimize forage and homegrown feed use, according to Overton.
“Adjust for fiber digestibility,” Overton said. “Evaluate protein sources for digestibility or un-digestibility, whether distillers, animal protein sources or blends. Potentially decrease feeding rates of rumen-degradable proteins like soy or canola.”
Overton said instead, farmers should prioritize maintaining ration ingredients that directly affect daily cash flow, are fed during very targeted periods of the lactation cycle, such as transition cows.
“Resist the temptation to shortcut calf nutrition programs,” Overton said.
Who’s eating the feed also matters. That’s why farmers should review cow and heifer inventories and needs.
“Are the right cows being milked?” Overton said. “How many heifers do you need? Overstocking generally contributes to lower feed efficiency through negative effects on milk components and rumen function.”
Operators should avoid compromising performance and IOFC of the whole herd by milking cows that are not covering feed and variable costs.
“Better repro means more heifers for many farms,” Overton said.
He recommended the resources on costs of replacement programs and other spreadsheets related to heifer programs and needs developed by Jason Karszes that are at the PRO-DAIRY website,