Ration balancer or dairy farm consultant?

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Lynn Davis, dairy nutritionist from Neenah, Wis.

After more than two and one-half decades of working as a consulting dairy nutritionist and seven years as part owner of a large commercial dairy farm, my approach with dairy clientele has evolved considerably.

As a young Ph.D. fresh out of school, my strong suit was nutrition and I tended to spend a lot of time talking about the ration, new feed additives, grams of this or that and the most recent nutrition topic in the lay dairy press. Back then, there were many dairies with unbalanced rations and poorly designed feeding programs. I had great success working with good dairy managers whose weak link was the nutrition program. Discussing ruminal protein degradation or how an anionic diet works must have been terribly boring for many of my clientele.

Fast forward to today and we see a dairy production industry with the majority of milk coming from multi-million dollar operations with numerous employees and highly skilled owners or managers overseeing various facets of their operations. These owners or managers hire me to achieve a desired outcome. They've had a balanced ration for years and they don't have time for the minutia of details about their ration. They trust me to handle the ration properly. They do, however, have their finger on the critical control points of their dairies and we meet monthly to monitor and discuss productivity, milk composition, dry matter intake, feed costs, herd turnover, reproduction, metabolic health events, lameness and operational protocols. Goals have been established and shortfalls are addressed with proper action plans with follow-up expected the following month. More often than not, the action plan involves a management modification rather than a ration change.

Successful and effective nutrition consulting goes way beyond the ration. It encompasses forage production and storage, feed mixing and delivery, cow comfort, heat abatement, fresh-cow protocols, cow grouping and movement, reproductive management and best-fit feed alternatives to maximize profit. Ration balancing is still an important dairy management component; however, it is but one of many management items that the effective nutritionist must consider at each dairy.

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