Extension and Ag Research News


Lowering Feed Costs Begins with Control

NDSU’s dairy specialist offers some tips on controlling feed costs.

With feed costs projected to continue rising, dairy production costs seem out of control.

Dairy producers have shopped around for the best buys and worked with a nutritionist to fine-tune their cows’ diet. But they may not have checked their cost-control points, such as the scale, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy cattle specialist J.W. Schroeder.

Producers may not have minimized their feed losses, either, he says. In these times of very high fuel costs, losses from shrinkage are dollars spent that will not generate revenue.

“When corn is worth its weight in gold, figuratively speaking, everyone feeding cattle is looking at ways to reduce feed costs,” he adds. “Before you give up milk yield to lower your herd’s feed costs, take an inventory of your monitoring and control practices.”

Here’s a list of recommendations for dairy producers adapted from dairy nutrition consultant Felix Soriano of Warrington, Pa.

  • Do an assessment on how ingredients are being handled from the time they arrive at the farm. Do you have standard operating procedures in place for receiving feeds and commodities?
  • Store expensive protein sources and concentrates in upright bins. If you are storing these in a commodity shed, calculate current losses and decide whether investing in a few upright bins could be profitable. If your current losses are 4 percent or more, investing in a few bins often is worth the expense.
  • Develop a mixing and feeding protocol to minimize the within-batch and between-batch variations in mixes.
  • Spend time and money coaching, training and giving feedback to your feeders.
  • Use feeding management software to monitor and adjust your feeding. This technology will help reduce batch variations, reduce feed losses and give you a more accurate feed inventory.
  • Closely monitor the feed bunk and cut down on feed refusals to better control feed losses.

When your feed management and storage practices are overlooked or lack consistency, the shrinkage can account for a 10 percent to 15 percent loss and amount to more than $2,000 per month for a 100-cow herd, Schroeder estimates.

Here are other tips to control costs:

  • From time to time, check mixer scales for accuracy, as well as mixing uniformity, by sampling and screening the total mixed ration with a particle separator box.
  • Periodically observe and monitor manure consistency. Better yet, develop a manure scoring protocol and train your employees to use it.

Also, feed costs can be controlled better when feeding cows more accurately. Schroeder recommends that producers periodically adjust feeding charts according to cow numbers in the pen or group to improve the accuracy of bringing feed to the barn. Typically, a 4 percent to 5 percent rate of refusal is common when feeding milking groups. With current high feed prices, managing feed bunks for 2 percent to 3 percent refusals could have a significant impact in feed costs.

To put this into perspective, if current feed refusals are 5 percent and the feed cost is $5.50 per cow a day, then a producer’s feed losses will be almost $100,000 per year for a 1,000-cow herd. In contrast, when running a more lean bunk with refusals at 2 percent to 3 percent, feed the refusals to heifers or low-group cows. On some dairies, these refusals are sometimes fed to far-off dry cows, depending on the ingredients.

“Needless to say, reducing refusals would take closer and more frequent attention, as well as excellent communication among all people involved in feeding,” Schroeder says. He suggests producers consider using a feeding management software system, especially with larger herds.

“Practicing these ideas and working with a nutritionist can contribute to some significant savings during these times of high feed costs,” he says.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663, jw.schroeder@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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