High-quality forage with careful use of grain ration makes a difference on annual profits on dairy farms. In different ways, three specialists hit that theme at the University of Missouri Dairy Field Day, June 20.
MU dairy economist Joe Horner showed the dollar reasons for cutting costs. Cost of feed remains the biggest expense in making milk.
While farmers can’t control the price they get for their milk, they can control how much they spend on inputs.
Tony Rickard, MU Extension dairy nutritionist, urged balancing a ration based on feed value, not feed costs.
“We’re not talking least-cost rations, but high feed-value rations,” he told a crowd of 85 at the first-of-a-kind event at Southwest Center, an MU research farm in Lawrence County.
Rickard told of a farmer who balanced his ration, using byproducts instead of grains. Tea leaves balanced the ration at a nutrient level. But the cows stopped giving milk.
The lesson: It’s not easy making a grain ration that makes milk without using corn and soybean meal. Energy and protein are needed.
But Rickard added that an alfalfa ration provides nutrients that don’t need much grain supplement.
Horner had shown dairy farm records on how high grain prices put the squeeze on dairy profits in recent years. His numbers showed that the way to cut costs comes down to feeding more high-quality forage.
After the talks, Rob Kallenbach, MU Extension forage specialist, showed how to make forage as baleage. He had a row of plastic-wrapped big bales beside the meeting tent. High-moisture bales that had been wrapped tightly in plastic a month ago were cut open.
This wasn’t a flip-chart lesson. Dairy farmers sniffed—and some tasted—the difference in feed quality.
The hay silage combines moisture in grass with sugars in the leaves to form lactic acid. That juice pickles the forage, preserving quality.
“Cows love it,” Kallenbach assured field day visitors. Both grass and alfalfa maintain quality when wrapped in airtight plastic that protects forage from rain—and oxygen.
Producers were ready to listen. This spring provided few dry, sunny days to make hay. Few farmers succeeded in getting their first-cutting hay baled rain-free.
Kallenbach not only showed the finished baleage—both good and bad—but also held a baleage-making demonstration after lunch.
A machine from Legacy Farm & Lawn baled and wrapped hay that the MU farm crew cut that morning.