Editor's note: This article was provided by Elliot Block, senior manager of technology, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition

When milk prices head south, our first reaction on the farm is to find a way to cut costs that won’t directly impact herd profits. While we may succeed in the short-term, these quick-fix changes can negatively impact herd performance long-term.

Take feed ingredients, for example. Rather than feeding high-quality, research-proven feed ingredients, some producers have turned to less expensive alternatives to lower ration costs. While this switch may create a cheaper ration, many times milk and component production also decline, which lowers herd margins at the same time. And once cows drop in production, it’s hard to regain those lost pounds later in lactation.

To keep cows performing optimally and ensure quality feed reaches the feedbunk every time:

  • Rely on research-proven effectiveness. Feed products that have been tested in university research studies and on-farm trials show they can deliver results in the real world. Industry tested and proven ingredients are often backed by specialized technical service teams that can be a resource when challenges arise. Rely on companies with a proven reputation for delivering quality results.
  • Look for certifications. There are many feed industry certifications that ensure feed ingredient integrity is upheld during the manufacturing process. The Facility Certification Institute was developed by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) to provide third-party certification to ensure safe and quality feed production. The Safe Feed/Safe Food Certification Program is an additional third-party certification initiative designed for feed mills and feed ingredient manufacturing facilities to implement comprehensive standards of management and feed quality 
  • Pay attention to the feed delivered to your dairy. New feed is delivered frequently and should be monitored for change in texture, color or smell. Employees responsible for feeding should also evaluate feed ingredients during feed-out and identify irregular changes. Identifying feed inconsistencies can help prevent future health and production problems. 
  • Ask questions. Your dairy nutritionist is an excellent resource as you navigate feed ingredient challenges. Develop a strong working relationship with your nutritionist and suppliers to ensure they provide the top-quality ingredients you request. They should understand the importance of high-quality feed ingredients to maintain cow performance and success on the dairy.  It’s also important to make sure that what’s prescribed by your nutritionist are the actual ingredients fed in the ration. By avoiding product swap-outs at the mill, you can ensure high-quality, research-proven ingredients optimize cow performance.
  • Put consistency first. Using unproven feedstuffs — even if they have the same ingredient list — from facilities that are not certified for quality control and assurance can lead to variable responses from day to day, week to week and month to month. This variation is confusing because you don’t know if it’s caused by environmental, managerial or feeding issues. Having constants in dietary ingredients will eliminate this source of variation and allow you to identify and improve problem areas.

Feed-ingredient quality has a direct influence on cow performance and health. To ensure each cow receives the highest-quality ration prescribed by your nutritionist, continue to monitor feed ingredients not only for price, but also for quality and consistency. These feed characteristics will keep your herd performing optimally year ’round.