Editor's note: The following case study was provided by Lawson Spicer, independent nutritionist with Nutri-Management Inc., in Claremont, Calif.
One of the clients that Lawson Spicer works with in the Southern California area wanted to make a ration change this past July to save some money. This 2,200-cow dairy was spending $4,000 to $5,000 on a mineral pack for its close-up pen and wanted to make a switch to save money. The mineral-pack was pellet-based and was fed at 10 pounds per head per day. It was not a very concentrated mineral package.
This particular herd feeds no silage. The only forage fed to its lactating cows is some alfalfa hay and green chop. It's not a very high-producing herd; it averages approximately 60 pounds, but carries a decent test of 3.6 percent.
The dry period averages approximately 65 days. Far-off cows are fed a diet of alfalfa hay, grasses, onions, almond hulls and almond shells. After 40 days in the far-off dry pen, cows are moved to a close-up pen where first-calf-heifers and multiparous cows are co-mingled in a large pen. When the cows calve, they are moved into a smaller pen adjacent to the larger close-up pen. Cows in the close-up pen are fed oat hay free-choice and the close-up mineral at 10 pounds per head per day.
This particular herd has very few problems with milk fever, as the oat hay is tested for DCAD levels to make sure they are adequate.
In July 2010, the herd made the decision to save money and take the pelletted mineral pack it had been feeding out of the close-up ration. In its place, the close-up cows received 5 pounds of the same grain mix the milk cows were being fed. This was done to make sure the cows received some energy in the diet.
Nothing really changed with the cows after the switch was made, says Spicer. But, after several months, the veterinarian spoke with the calf feeder because the calves were getting sick. This particular operation raises all of its own calves.
No practices had changed on the calf-raising side of things, but the calves were getting sick and were very weak.
The veterinarian called Spicer and asked him to speak with the calf feeder. After discussing the situation with the calf feeder, Spicer realized that as a result of removing the mineral pack from the close-up cow ration, the calves were being born with a weakened immune system.
"We found that we were not supplementing enough energy to the cows," says Spicer. "The dairy put the mineral pack they had been using back in and the problem resolved itself."
Bottom-line: Even though the dairy was saving money by removing the expensive close-up mineral pack, it wasn't worth it in the end.