The coming year promises to be exciting!
Milk prices are near record highs, but unfortunately so are feed prices. With corn prices nearly $8/bushel, the successful dairy manager must squeeze every bit of energy, protein and carbohydrates from the forages on the farm to maintain margins on income over feed costs. Your feed management plan should focus on knowledge of inventories, feed nutrient content and controlling shrink.

Successful feed program management demands knowledge of inventories of forages and feed grains as well as their quality. Determine as closely as possible the amount of all silages and hay crops on hand and project utilization through the next harvest period. The silocap program, an Excel spreadsheet developed by 
VT faculty and available at, can help estimate forage inventories in various silos.  The program also has the ability to consider storage losses in determining how much is available to feed. Project utilization of each forage by considering how much is fed daily and project needs until the next harvest.  Remember to consider the following in projections:

  • Herd expansion. What about those extra heifers freshening over the next year?  Twenty five extra heifers consuming 60 lb. of silage per day will mean an extra 1500 lb. of silage daily and 275 tons more silage required annually.
  • Forage quality. Some producers have planted acreage to BMR varieties of corn silage. Rations with BMR varieties will contain more silage due to its higher digestibility.  This means less corn to purchase, but it increases silage consumption by as much as 10%.
  • Higher production. As cow’s milk more they eat more. If herd average has increased this past year, expect greater demand for forages.

Recognize deficiencies in forage supply early and purchase feed before it becomes more expensive in the spring. Don’t totally rely on what was needed in the previous year.

Determine forage and feed nutrient content routinely.  Ohio State studies suggest corn silage should be tested at least monthly. Routine testing of commodity feeds during our 5 year phosphorus field study demonstrated that every load of commodity feeds arriving on the farm should be tested. This enables timely adjustment of rations and in some cases, deficiency payments can be expected from suppliers if feeds don’t meet guaranteed nutrient specifications for DM%, CP% or other nutrients.

What’s your shrink?   How much harvested forage or purchased grains and commodities are wasted?  A trailer load of corn grain costs in excess of $8,000. Reducing shrink from 10 to 5% is worth over $400.  Focus on the following in reducing shrink:

  • Dry storage,
  • Insect and animal damage,
  • Spillage during loading of mixer wagons,
  • Overloading mixer wagon.

Average daily feed cost for a cow producing 70 lb. of milk is close to $8.00 which represents a daily cost approaching $1500 for the typical lactating herd in Virginia. Incentives are especially attractive for managers to optimize nutrient balance through timely ration formulation and knowledge of nutrient content and quality of all feeds. Further improvements can be expected through reductions in losses during storage and feeding.

Source: Bob James, Virginia Extension Dairy Scientist, Dairy Nutrition