Currently, the class iii milk price is projected to average near $16 per hundredweight through the end of the year. A perfect combination of events has helped reduce the milk supply and increase the price of cheese, butter, and milk.
Among other things, the Canadian border has been closed to replacements, consumer demand for dairy products is up, and the Cooperatives Working Together program has purchased thousands of animals to help bring the national dairy herd under 9 million head.
With record prices at hand, producers have a rare opportunity to decide how they will spend their profits.
I propose that producers invest in improvements that will bring about significant improvements in cow health and animal welfare. Possible areas for improvement include:
Re-invest in dry cows. Dry cow feeding and facilities frequently receive secondary attention in the best of times. And when dollars are short, “economies” in feeding programs and even bedding are often instituted. Now would be a good time to review your dry-cow nutrition and housing program, and upgrade it if necessary. Dollars spent here will almost always result in a direct payback, but the effect won’t be seen for several months until your cows freshen.
Re-assess cow comfort. This includes cattle of all ages. Even if you have a relatively new facility, chances are you can make several improvements that will improve cow comfort, which will pay dividends in terms of productivity, health, and longevity. For example, you can install larger or better-designed free-stalls, better stall surfaces, or just more bedding to improve animal welfare and performance. Now may be the time, also, to install heat-abatement systems in all areas of the barns, including dry-cow and fresh-cow facilities. Improvements such as these are difficult to afford during periods of low prices, but doing so now should allow you to more effectively meet the demands when prices decline again in the future.
Solve a nagging diagnostic problem. Many, if not most herds, have an area of performance or health that needs improvement. It could involve chronic calf scours, a mortality problem, or a herd-reproductive problem. Addressing and resolving these problems usually requires a significant investment of dollars — in diagnostic and professional time, as well as investments to implement solutions. Now would be a good time to dedicate the resources needed to finally resolve the problem. And then, when difficult times return in the future, these nagging problems will no longer hinder your cows’ performance or profitability.
Remember, these record-breaking prices won’t last forever. Capitalize on the current period of favorable economic conditions while it lasts- — because a long-term investment in the health of your herd is an investment that will pay dividends far into the future.
Brian Gerloff is a veterinarian and operates Seneca Bovine Service in Marengo, Ill.