Answer by Mike Hutjens
Q: With the high feed prices (hay, corn, soybeans, wheat, fuzzy cottonseed, and oil/fat), should dairy managers and feed consultants consider shifting from a one-group TMR to multiple TMRs on their farm?
A: Each dairy manager and situation may offer a different answer or strategy. First, let’s look at the economic impact. Using Spartan II dairy ration software and today’s current feed prices, an 80-pound ration for a 1,350-pound cow with 3.7 percent milk fat would cost $5.10 per cow per day to feed 49.5 pounds of dry matter, which is 10.3 cents per pound of dry matter. A balanced 60-pound TMR (assuming a second lower-producing group) would cost $4.01 per cow with 45 pounds of dry matter at 8.9 cents per pound of dry matter.
With this information, several calculations and comparisons can be made:
- Looking at the total feed cost, $1.09 (or $5.10 minus $4.01) can be saved per cow per day on the second ration.
- Adjusting for lower-producing cows eating 4.5 pounds less dry matter (49.5 pounds - 45 pounds), there is a savings of 46 cents per day.
- If cows drop 3 pounds to 8 pounds when moving between groups (social factors or less feed consumption initially), and milk is valued at 18 cents a pound, an additional 54 cents to $1.44 could be lost when moving cows.
Additional factors include the current herd milk yield (high-producing herds may need added nutrients for growth and weight gain in late lactation), age of the herd (young cows have a growth requirement), and body condition score (if cows are over 3.5 BCS with two to three months to milk, the manager will need to move these cows out of the high group). As a thumb-rule, about 10 percent of the cows typically may be classified as “heavy, high-risk cows” that must be addressed. The loss of rbST will increase this risk.
Other items to consider include the additional mixing time and labor to make more than one TMR. One alternative is to make one TMR, but add expensive additives and nutrients after the low group has been fed to the remaining TMR and remix the original TMR. Or, you can feed the high group and add more forage or other bulky ingredients to cut costs and nutrient levels before feeding the low group.
Carefully consider your options and opportunities, but do not sacrifice milk. Your herd responses can vary from the conditions listed above.