Forty to 60 percent of the cost of producing milk will be in feed, so any efficiences gained in this area will pay huge dividends. 

Mike Hutjens, professor emeritus of dairy science at the University of Illinois, outlined some of the opportunities at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin business conference this week.

Just knowing the metrics, the various costs associated with feeding cows, is vitally important, he said.  What is your feed cost per hundredweight of milk? Can you get it below $8 per hundredweight?

Feed efficiency is a critical number. How much milk are you getting out of each pound of dry matter? If a producer can improve his feed efficiency from 1.4 to 1.6, it would mean 72 cents more savings or profit per cow per day, Hutjens pointed out.

Spring is coming.  Are you going to put more alfalfa in your feeding program? Are you going to go to corn silage? What varieties of corn silage are you going to? Do you have an opportunity to use high-moisture corn, which may give you some flexibility? he asked.

There are some new ways to process corn silage, as well.

Hutjens said there is excitement over “snaplage,” a silage product involving not only the grain, but the cob, the husk and other plant parts.  With snaplage, it may be possible to harvest a couple of weeks earlier, increase the yield per acre 15 to 20 percent, and make strategic improvements to feeding programs, he said.

Another new method of harvesting corn silage is known as shredlage. With this, "we actually make the corn silage more digestible and have a little more physical fiber involved in it,” he said. “That might be an opportunity, as well.”

Finally, computer programs allow producers and their nutritionists to look at amino acids, rates of passage and neutral detergent fiber digestibilities. With these programs, “we can take the feedstuffs on your farm, which hopefully are high quality, and get the most maximum benefit from them,” he said.

Just a few years ago, people were talking about 18 percent protein diets. Now, 16 percent is very common. “It doesn’t mean we have miracle feeds. We’ve done a better job of predicting how cows will digest their feeds and utilize them,” he said.  

“So, we’ve got lots of tools out there (for people to ask if) we have the right feeds, are we processing them properly, and do the cows digest them properly.”