Feeding cows in times of economic uncertainty

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Since the beginning of 2009, we have witnessed milk prices drop more than 40 percent and feed cost, corn and soybean meal increase in price. Since feed costs represent 60-65 percent of the total cost of production, some dairymen are re-thinking their feeding regimes. The tendency is to want to cut back on feed costs, but this needs to be approached carefully. By cutting back while ignoring sound nutrition and feed management science, we could eliminate many of the things that allow for high milk production in the first place. It is important to not remove ingredients that could result in reduced milk production or composition, decreased health and immunity, and lowered fertility.

If you are looking at cutting feed costs through the elimination of additives (although they are sound feeding investments), consider excluding the following:  Monensin, buffers, yeast products and possibly certain organic trace elements. Just be careful and fully review all the scientific evidence as to what additives can offer, as often times they have hidden benefits like organic minerals and hoof health improvement.

Another option when looking for ways to cut feed costs is to evaluate the core parts of the rations. Recently, there have been beneficial strategies developed for formulating dairy rations in times of relatively high corn and soybean meal prices. One of these strategies is using industrial co-products like soybean hulls, corn gluten feed and distiller’s grains. In the case of the corn co-products, they can be incorporated in the wet form. 

An alternate approach is increasing the dry matter intake of highly digestible corn silage from a fiber standpoint. The historical average incorporation of corn silage into lactating rations on a percentage of dry matter has been around 45 percent, but recent evidence suggests that we could approach 60 percent with the right corn silage. This is based on research conducted with NutriDense Silage from BASF Plant Science. The concept with both the industrial co-products and NutriDense Silage strategies is the incorporation of more high-quality forage and lower dietary starch content in the ration. Reduced starch feeding regimes will minimize the amount of corn grain and may prove to be more profitable than elevated starch feeding methods. Additionally, cow comfort will be improved, and milk production will not be compromised with an improvement in ruminal fermentation characteristics.

One cannot simply stop at feeds, feeding and nutrition when times are tough. We also need to improve our management skills. Spend time with your customers, and review their feeding management, bunk management, feed milling and feed delivery for any potential flaws.

In closing, I have found over the past 30 years as a practicing nutritionist that keeping a positive attitude is critical in tough economic times. Being practical, taking a hard look at your customers’ operations for money-saving opportunities, and keeping a positive attitude are what it’s all about.

Jerry Weigel is the manager of nutrition and tech service for BASF Plant Science. You can contact him at gerald.weigel@basf.com.



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