With feed cost so high the last couple of years, dairy producers have needed all the help they can get. One of the best tools for addressing this is FeedVal 2012, a free computer model from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Go to: http://dairymgt.info/tools.php).

FeedVal is designed to help farmers make economical decisions when purchasing and using feed ingredients.

The program computes the nutrient value of common feed ingredients, such as shelled corn and soybean meal. Then, factoring in the price of the ingredients, it indicates whether the ingredient is considered a bargain or not.

The program starts out with default values that reflect current prices in the Midwest. But users can go in and put their own prices in.

There are a number of people outside the Midwest — and even internationally — who use the program with their own local prices, says Victor Cabrera, assistant professor and extension dairy specialist in dairy farm management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Best buys

In late July, some of the feed ingredients that were listed as bargains or best buys included distillers dried grains, soy hulls, corn gluten feed, canola meal, cottonseed meal, wheat middlings, sunflower meal and hominy.

That could change, however, as the price of corn changes.

Normally, corn carries a lot of weight in determining the relative value of other feed ingredients, Cabrera says.

So, if corn drops in price this fall, as is expected with a bumper crop, it will change the rankings and some ingredients that were considered bargains in late July could drop out of the “green” or favorable category. Others could drop in.

In fact, someone could go in ahead of time and do those computations — based on a lower expected corn price — and start scouting out ingredients that have a good relative value under such circumstances.

With applications such as these, feedback has been positive, Cabrera says.

“It’s a nice program. We use it all the time,” says Mike Hutjens, professor emeritus of dairy science at the University of Illinois.

A couple of examples:

• People have inquired about buying organic barley from Canada and want to know a fair price to pay for it.

• Last fall, there was a lot of drought-stressed corn silage and, again, people wanted to know a fair price. They could go in and include actual test values for protein and total digestible nutrients — total digestible nutrients were then adjusted to net energy for lactation on the program — and compare them to corn and soybean meal to get their answer.