Most of us never thought the current economic conditions would last this long. As a result, there isn’t too much more cost-cutting that can be done on many farms. However, over the past few months, I have discussed with producers some areas that you should evaluate to find “one more notch” that you can tighten in your dairy’s belt.

Ration analysis

Since feed is the biggest expense, begin your examination there.

First, evaluate feed additives. Ask your veterinarian and nutritionist to review your ration. Look at the return on all feed additives. Any product that does not return milk or have obvious improvements to cow health should be considered for removal. You also must be prepared to put that additive back in the ration if you notice any changes in cow health or production after its removal. 

Next, ask your veterinarian and nutritionist to review the metabolizable protein levels in your ration. Overfeeding protein is a huge waste of money. My goal for metabolizable protein for lactating rations is 2,000-2,400 grams per head per day.

Don’t decrease income

Just remember, if we tighten our belts too much, we can strangle ourselves. The most profitable expenses to cut are those that do not decrease income. Here are some general areas to avoid cutting:

1. Ration cuts that cost production. It takes 13 pounds of dry matter for a cow’s maintenance needs. If we get her to eat 50 pounds of dry matter, she will ideally make 2.5 pounds of milk for each pound of that dry matter consumed. If your ration costs 10 cents per pound, feed is still a good return on investment, even at $10 milk. You cannot cut expenses enough to compensate for decreased production.

2. Reproduction. We still need pregnant cows in the herd, even when times are tough. Do not abandon your reproduction program. Breed cows and have them pregnancy-checked in a timely manner. The cost of days open, even in today’s market, is more than the cost of maintaining a good reproduction program. Ask your veterinarian how you can improve your reproduction program and, most of all, know your numbers. Three areas to watch: pregnancy rate, days open and days in milk at first service. 

3. Milk Quality. Mastitis is still the most costly disease in the dairy industry. Involuntary culling, non-saleable milk, treatment cost and the loss of milk-quality/low somatic cell count premiums (where they are available) can add up quickly. Maintain milking equipment, follow good milking procedures, dry-treat all quarters, culture clinical cases and invest in good teat dip to keep this disease from costing you income.

4. Veterinary expenses. It is not the goal of your veterinarian to bleed your dairy enterprise of cash. We want our clients to be successful so they will be in the dairy business for many years to come. To lower veterinary expenses, be prepared for herd checks and veterinary visits. Have the cows sorted and marked. Have your list ready and organized so that the veterinarian can be efficient with his/her time on the farm. Ask your veterinarian which cows he/she recommends be checked at herd check, since some clients choose the wrong cows for the vet list. Decrease medication cost by treating cows appropriately.

It may appear that you cannot tighten anymore, and that is true on many farms. I encourage you to evaluate your numbers and hang in there for better days, which are bound to return. Lastly, I want to thank all of the dairy producers who work hard to provide the safe, nutritious dairy products we enjoy.  

Fred Gingrich is a practicing veterinarian and owner of Country Roads Veterinary Services, Inc. in Ashland, Ohio.