With high feed costs, ration decisions are more critical than ever. At last month’s Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin business conference, Diamond V technical services specialist Brian Perkins laid out a plan for evaluating feed products.

1. Understand the biology behind the product. Ask the sales people to explain this. “The good ones will be able to answer your questions,” he said.

2. Demand a substantial body of proper research. It’s not up to the farm to do its own research; in fact, Perkins discourages this because the typical commercial dairy farm is not set up to do a proper research trial. Rather, it’s up to the company supplying the product to provide evidence that the product works. In other words, is there causality between using the product and achieving a desired goal? “University trials are the gold standard,” he said, especially if published in a peer-reviewed journal. But one university trial doesn’t cut it, in Perkins’ opinion. “I want to see a pile of research so I can evaluate it as a whole,” he said. Specifically, Perkins recommends the meta analysis approach where a number of research trials (from universities and companies) are summarized together to reach a meaningful conclusion. It’s been the wave for years in human medicine; the livestock industry is now catching up. But even with a meta analysis, there are questions to ask. For instance, ask to see the research paper itself. In the body of that  paper, it should say whether all relevantresearch papers were included (or that no relevant experiments were excluded). Ask to see a Begg’s funnel plot, where the different trials are plotted and you can see where they lie in relation to the mean or average. “Be sure that all data that went into the meta analysis are for the same species,” he said. And be sure that all data are for the specific product being considered and not for different products in a similar product category.

3. Apply current economics to predicted response to calculate income over feed cost. “Income over feed cost is absolutely my favorite number for evaluating changes on a dairy,” he said. In other words, “how big is that pile of money at the end of the day?” Do not make decisions on feed cost per hundredweight or feed efficiency alone. It’s income over feed cost that will give you the right answer, Perkins said.

4. Make the decision with your nutritionist or veterinarian.