Develop strategies to lower feed costs

US - Recovering from low milk prices has been anything but easy with today's higher feed costs.
calendar icon 8 August 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Certainly the unaffected reader might be thinking that is nothing new because agriculture almost always is in need. The problem this time is not just high costs, but the lack of good feed buys. That is, no feed ingredients are priced much lower than the rest on the market to make one a clear choice to switch to using it. If such an ingredient existed, it likely would be gone, anyway.

Producers have no easy answer or “silver bullet,” but here are some suggestions from Paul Cerosaletti, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Service, in the SCNY Dairy and Feed Crops Digest to help keep feed costs in check.
  • Cow health/cow comfort issues. Feed costs will be high if cows don't make as much milk as the ration they eat should support. Do you have some big issues on your farm causing cows to perform poorly? If so, seek help to get at the root of the problem.
  • Don't let feed accounts payable build. If you have a feed bill mounting, and that's more common than you think, especially right now, do two things: work with a nutritionist to make sure that you are feeding your cows economically and contact your lender. See about getting the open feed account moved to a line of credit at a much lower interest rate. Most feed mills are going to charge an annual interest rate of at least 18 percent, whereas you can borrow money from a lender for at least half that amount. Realize that, on a big bill, the difference in interest between the feed mill and the bank can buy several tons of feed each month.
  • Provide adequate water. Be sure the cows get adequate water and it is good quality. A water test through the forage lab can determine quality. An old rule of thumb for a stanchion barn is the quantity should be 3 to 5 gallons per minute from every water bucket when under peak demand.
  • Inventory forages. Know how much forage you have and how good it is, and use it accordingly. If possible, make sure the high-producing cows get the best forage. Know how much of your forages you can use per cow per day to avoid using up the forages too fast or not fast enough. If you are short on forage, knowing what quality forage you have can help you decide if you need to go after top-quality forage or maybe some average-quality feed that can be used for heifers.
  • Evaluate your additives. Now is a good time to re-evaluate the feed additives you use and decide if you really need them and, if so, how to use them. Many of these additives are very expensive, but can be effective. Many are very difficult to determine their effectiveness in your herd, and some (such as organic minerals) have effects that are not seen immediately if they are added or removed. In determining what additives to use, ask for research data to back up claims.
  • Use a protein and energy system. Time and again, for component-fed herds, this is the cheapest way to feed cows if you are willing to do it and it's done right. The protein grain should be very concentrated - more than 30 percent crude protein, which, in its purest form, can be straight soybean meal (or other high-protein byproduct, such as canola meal) .

The more concentrated it is, the greater the savings. The energy grain should be much less expensive and low in protein. You should expect a large difference in price between the protein and energy grain - at least $50 per ton. If that difference is not apparent, the feed formulas should be examined again. The cost savings come from feeding fewer pounds of the high-protein feed and from being able to use the energy mix to put weight on cows in later lactation, and not having to feed both energy and protein to the cows to accomplish it.

Source: Minnesota Farm Guide
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