Dan scheps can’t say enough good things about his feed-management software.

“I’m the biggest proponent of these programs,” says the 520-cow producer from Almena, Wis. And it’s no wonder — Scheps has saved about $167 per cow per year since he started using the software to monitor the dairy’s feed-refusal rate and feed efficiency two years ago.

The cost of feed-software programs varies, but most packages range from $3,500 to $8,000, depending on what features you want. However, producers like Scheps will tell you that cost pales in comparison to the savings these programs can generate.

Ralph Staal couldn’t agree more.

Staal used to print off a copy of each ration fed at Stoll Farms and hand it to the feeders every week. With a dozen rations fed every day at the 3,000-head dairy near Marshallville, Ohio, this hand-to-hand transfer of data was not only tedious, but it also increased the risk of cows getting the wrong diet.

Remove the guesswork
So, about a year ago, the dairy purchased a feed-management software program. Now instead of handing a copy of each ration to the feeders, Staal’s computer does the legwork for him. Through radio frequency, the computer interfaces with a display panel located in the cab of the truck-mounted mixer (some other software programs require the use of a memory card to transfer data between the office computer and the mixer). Now, all it takes is the touch of a button on the display panel in the cab, and the ration to be fed pops up on the screen.

During loading, the feeder monitors another display panel mounted on the outside of the truck. The display panel tells him which ingredient to load and how much of it he needs to add. As he loads the ingredient into the mixer, the display panel counts down to zero. When he’s done, he clicks a remote and the display panel shows him the next ingredient to add.

“There’s always more risk involved if you’re manually figuring that out,” says Staal, the dairy’s manager.

With that type of guesswork, cows don’t receive the exact same ration twice. And when it comes to producing milk, everyone knows that consistency pays. The software helps Stoll Farms achieve that goal.

Eliminate small errors
If you had asked Mike Stutte what he thought about feed-management software three years ago, his response would have been somewhat skeptical.

“I thought it would be a big waste of time and money,” says Stutte, a partner in Union Valley Dairy near Manitowoc, Wis. But once he saw just what the software could do, he quickly changed his mind.

Now, after more than two- and-one-half years, Stutte says the software has become invaluable on the 500-cow dairy. Perhaps the biggest eye-opener was that it showed him the feeders were adding too little or too much protein-mineral premix to the heifer, dry-cow and close-up rations.

The software’s daily feeder-error report shows Stutte how close the feeders come to putting the targeted amount of each ingredient in a ration. What he found was that the feeders were sometimes putting anywhere from 45 to 85 pounds of premix into a ration — 10 to 50 pounds more than they were supposed to. When that happened, it cost them at least $5.30 per day (10 extra pounds of premix x $0.53 per pound = $5.30).

And that’s just the results from one ration ingredient. If you have similar errors happening with several ration ingredients, the cost can really add up fast.

But Stutte doesn’t fault his feeders. It was just too hard to be accurate with a skid-steer when adding such a small amount to the mixer. Now, the feeders measure premix in a pre-marked pail, pour the contents into the skid-steer bucket and add it to the mixer. Today, the reports show the feeders are just 5 pounds off on any given day.

Thanks to the software — and changes made when weaknesses were revealed — errors have become an anomaly. “Their accuracy is just phenomenal,” Stutte says of the feeders at Union Valley Dairy. “Day after day, we feed a balanced ration because ingredients are put in as they’re supposed to.”

Improve feed efficiency
In 2001, Scheps Dairy in northwest Wisconsin started using feed-management software.

But it wasn’t until early 2002 that Scheps took a hard look at the software’s feed clean-up option so he could get a better handle on feed refusals. And he hasn’t regretted it since.

“I know we cut our refusals by probably one-third,” he says. But what really drove the value of the software home to Scheps was the fact that he was able to get more milk on less feed.

Before he started tracking refusals with the software, the cows were producing 76 pounds of milk when fed 61 pounds of dry matter. Since implementing the clean-up option, milk production has climbed to 82 pounds per cow per day while intake has dropped to 54 pounds per cow per day. In short, that pushed the dairy’s feed efficiency from 1.3 to 1.5, which meant the cows were producing 1.5 pounds of milk for every 1 pound of dry matter intake.

By improving feed efficiency, Scheps dropped his feed cost per hundredweight of milk by 67 cents — a savings of $167.50 per cow per year. To date, he has saved about $174,000 (Please see the table above for more details.)

“When feed costs are the single biggest expense on a dairy, I feel the cost for a program to monitor it is well justified,” he says. “I know it paid itself back in no time.”

If you’re not using feed software, you’re really missing out on the value it can give you.

“That’s half your cost (of production) sitting out on that feed slab,” Stutte of Manitowoc, Wis., says. “Why not manage that like you manage your cows?”

Where to buy feed-management software

If you want to learn more about the features of feed-management software programs, these software companies can help you:

EZfeed
Provo, Utah
(800) 453-9400, ext. 6704 or 6708
www.dhiprovo.com

Feed Supervisor
Dresser, Wis.
(888) 259-8949
www.feedsupervisor.com

FeedWatch
Tulare, Calif.
(888) 225-6753
www.vas.com

TMR Tracker
Fort Atkinson, Wis.
(800) 225-7695
www.digi-star.com

 

Feed software pays

At Scheps dairy in Almena, Wis., feed cost per hundred- weight of milk totaled $4.63 in 2001. That was before Dan Scheps started tracking feed refusals with his feed-management software.

By using the software to lower his refusal rate and improve feed efficiency, Scheps dropped his feed cost per hundredweight of milk produced by 67 cents without losing milk production. With a rolling-herd average of 25,000 pounds per cow, that’s a savings of $167.50 per cow per year (25,000 divided by 100 x 0.67 = $167.50). To date, that’s a savings of $174,200 across the 520-cow herd ($167.50 x 520 = $87,100 x 2 years = $174,200). The chart below shows his feed cost.