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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

How Will You Feed Your Herd In 2008

Dairy Pipeline: April 2008

Bob James, Extension Dairy Scientist, Dairy Nutrition
(540) 231-4770;

Who would have expected the conditions we’ve seen in 2007 and 2008? Milk prices exceeded $25/cwt. Corn and soybean prices reached record or near record highs and we experienced a drought which lead to depressed forage yields and reduced forage quality. The next 12 months should be interesting! These conditions provide a strong stimulus for us to seriously examine the economics of our feeding program. Regardless of the economic conditions it’s important to remember that the goal is to produce milk at the greatest economic return per cwt of milk produced. This means that we must look at both costs and returns. As an example, when corn prices exceeded $5.00/bushel and soybean meal $350/ton, it was tempting to feed less. However, this was not a good decision when milk prices exceeded $25/cwt. As we face new challenges for 2008 consider the following factors in guiding your long and short term planning decisions.

Long Term:

Forage quality is especially important.
Strongly consider forage varieties yielding more digestible nutrients. The BMR varieties of corn and other forages used for silage have been developed with higher whole plant digestibility. This results in improved intake, less grain (corn) feeding and potentially healthier cows producing milk with higher components. What about reduced tonnage and crop knock down? Research has yielded new varieties that address these problems quite well. One can expect similar yields and standability characteristics of conventional varieties.

Grouping cows. When BST was more widely used there was less incentive to group cows because we could reduce the drop in production experienced by cows in late lactation. One group TMR herds were also easier to feed and manage. However, with higher feed costs and more variation in daily milk yield there’s more incentive to group cows. Premium ingredients can be utilized in rations for fresh and or high production groups where an economic return from more milk, higher components or improved health justifies their expense. Suggested minimum groups are:

Environment. What are conditions like where the cows eat? Consider the following:

Short Term:

Forage test routinely. Monthly testing of corn silage is advised, with more frequent testing as herd size or expected variation in the forage quality increases. Use wet chemistry for initial samples and less expensive NIR testing when less variation is expected. Starch levels should be measured in all corn silage samples.

Group cows.

Does this sound like a broken record?

Make wise purchasing decisions.

Control shrink. Losses for forages and some commodities can exceed 25% of the delivered quantity.

Consider the purchase of feed management software. These technologies enable managers to monitor loading and feeding accuracy as well as shrink. Once deliveries of commodities or grain mixes are entered into the inventory, the system will deduct amounts utilized as cows are fed thereby enabling a comparison of what the cows receive to what was delivered. They also provide a convenient way to track dry matter intake of groups of cows within the herd and relay it to the nutritionist.

Ultimately it’s important to remember the three rations that exist on the farm.

  1. The ration that has been formulated and delivered to the feeder. Were the appropriate ingredients selected? Did you provide good information to the nutritionist?

  2. The ration that was delivered to the cows. Are loading and mixing instructions clear for the feeder? Did he/she mix the ration as instructed and deliver appropriate amounts to the group?

  3. The ration that the cow consumed. Was there sorting? How does the dry matter intake compare to that specified from the nutritionist? Did you communicate this information back to the nutritionist? Strive to make sure that they are all the same.

When facing the challenges of high feed prices, don’t make rash decisions, instead evaluate some of these key factors involved in successful feeding management.

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