Don’t skimp on the details and you’ll find the lost dollars (Part 1)

Posted on August 16, 2016 in Dairy Performance
By Dr. Laurie Winkelman
In tough economic times, nutritionists often get questions and requests to reduce feed costs on farms. From a nutrition standpoint, a cow needs what a cow needs and that won’t change if milk is $25 per cwt or $12 per cwt.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that, when milk prices are low, questions on feed costs still come up. In the big picture, shaving a nickel or less per day from ration costs won’t save a dairy financially, especially if milk is lost along the way. Saving 5 cents in rations and losing a pound of milk – worth 12 or 15 cents – is a losing venture every time.

If you’re looking to find where the real dollars can be gained to impact your bottom line, I would suggest looking into the details. In this first article, we will look at details in forage and feeding management.  Stay tuned for more on cow comfort and reproductive management.

Details in forage management

  • Are you putting up the best-quality, most-digestible forages for your milking cows? Better quality and highly digestible forages allow you to feed more forage and potentially reduce out-of-pocket costs.
  • Are you using a research-proven inoculant to reduce fermentation losses from field to feedout? Fermentation losses can reach 12 to 15 percent with a good fermentation and be much higher for a bad one.
  • Are you properly covering and sealing your piles and bunkers to reduce spoilage losses?

I did some math for a 400-cow dairy that purchases corn silage out of the field at harvest time and ensiles in bunkers and piles on the farm. Last year, the pile was large – too large to efficiently feed from the whole face – so the pile was split in half.  I conservatively estimated splitting the pile resulted in a 10-percent loss of fermented feed due to substantial spoilage and wasted feed.

As an example, let’s say the farm put up about 6,000 tons of corn silage at approximately $35 per ton. That’s $210,000 of corn silage, not including harvest and storage costs. A 10-percent loss would be $21,000 on the feed alone, plus any costs associated with buying additional feed to make up for the loss of this corn silage. On this 400-cow dairy, a nickel per cow per day of feed cost is $7,300 for the year. Surely better forage management and reduction in shrink will mean more for the bottom line than squeezing 5 cents out of concentrated or purchased feed costs.

Details in feeding and feed management

  • Is the mixer scale accurate and calibrated properly?
  • Are your feeders mixing the right amounts of ingredients in the right order?
  • Are your feeds properly stored to reduce environmental losses to wind and rain?
  • Is your feed center or feeding routine efficient and smooth? Driving long distances with payloader buckets of feed can spill a lot of feed on the way from the storage unit to the mixer.

Conservatively, mixing errors, feed shrink and refusals can easily add up to more than 25 cents per cow per day in losses. On a 400-cow dairy, this would equate to $36,500 per year.

We may lose sight of the details as chores become routine, but sticking to them could have huge implications for your farm’s bottom line.  Taking the time to set – and follow – specific protocols for your forage and feed programs is always a good investment.

About the author:  Dr. Laurie Winkelman grew up on a 130-cow Holstein and Brown Swiss farm in southeast Wisconsin.  Following high school, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she double-majored in dairy science and agricultural journalism and graduated in 2003.  She then attended The Ohio State University to earn her master’s degree.  Her research focused on the concept of limiting energy intake in prepartum transition dairy cows.  After completing her master’s, Winkelman worked for Ohio State as the dairy program specialist, overseeing the youth and 4-H dairy programs for the state as well as working with multi-state extension programs, such as the Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference.  In 2007, she moved to Ithaca, New York to pursue her Ph.D. at Cornell University.  There she examined the role of insulin in milk protein synthesis in lactating cows.  Following completion of her Ph.D. in early 2011, Winkelman began working with Vita Plus as a nutritionist and member of the technical services team in northeast Wisconsin.

Category: Dairy Performance
Forage storage and management