The following answer was provided by Mike Hutjens, professor emeritus of dairy science at the University of Illinois.

Q: Despite high feed costs, what are some of the opportunities for producers to maximize profits this year?

A: Just knowing the metrics, the various costs associated with feeding cows, is vitally important, Mike Hutjens told those attending the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin business conference this week. 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.

I think all of these metrics are awfully important for determining, “Do I have that feeding program really fine-tuned? Am I getting the most bang for my buck?”

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 some of the high-moisture corns, which may give you some flexibility?

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

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

There is another new product known as shredlage. It’s a new way to process corn silage, which means we actually make the corn silage more digestible and have a little more physical fiber involved in it. That might be an opportunity, as well.

And, finally, there are computer programs which allow us to look at amino acids, rates of passage and NDF digestibilities. And we can take the feedstuffs on your farm, which hopefully are high quality, and get the most maximum benefit from them.

Just a few years ago, we were talking 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.

So, we’ve got lots of tools out there to say do we have the right feeds, are we processing them properly, and do the cows digest them properly.