Dealing With High Grain Prices

As feed prices remain high going into the winter, fine-tuning and evaluating rations is a must. Consider the following points when evaluating your dairy programs this fall:

  1. If you were able to harvest good quality forages this summer, you have a definite advantage over someone with lower quality forages. Rations formulated around poor quality hay require more grain and protein concentrate. In spite of higher supplement levels, milk production from low quality forage will never equal the production possible from good quality forage. High concentrate diets also increase the risk of acidosis and its associated problems. Harvesting the best quality forage possible will save money in the long run and not only when grain prices are high. If you are faced with low quality forages, pencil out the costs of purchasing a better quality hay for at least your fresh and high producing cows.
  2. Send all forages to a laboratory for feed analysis and have a well-balanced feeding program prepared by a qualified nutritionist. This will prevent overfeeding and underfeeding - both costly management practices. Some "expensive" feed ingredients and additives serve specific purposes and are needed by higher producers. Following a well-balanced feeding program will ensure that these feed components are directed to the cows that will benefit.
  3. Look seriously at culling lower producers. They are costing you money as a greater part of their feed is used simply for maintenance. Feed costs per unit of milk decrease as milk production increases. A recent U.S. study showed that one cow producing 26,000 lbs of milk would provide as much net income as two cows producing 20,000 lbs.
  4. Do not cut back on feeding grain to the point where production starts to drop. If a 7-cent pound of barley ($150/T) produces an extra 2 lbs of milk, you could save 7 cents in feed costs but lose over 40 cents in milk sales. Underfeeding in early lactation will also have negative effects on reproductive performance and overall milk production. Making "feed cost savings" in an area that limits peak lactation could be one of the most costly decisions you make.
  5. Consider the use of alternate feedstuffs as they become available. If you have storage capacity, you may be able to take advantage of periodic "deals". Before you buy, make sure these feeds are, in fact, "deals" - nutritionally as well as economically. To optimize their use, they must be incorporated into a well-formulated ration.
  6. Fats, such as tallow, offer an alternative source of energy. Handling, mixing and palatability problems mean fats are best utilized in a TMR or added by the feed company into a prepared ration or supplement. Although fats are not always the cheapest source of energy, they do have the advantage of increasing the energy density of the ration thus increasing energy intake of the cow without a corresponding increase in dry matter intake. This can be useful when dry matter intake is already maximized. Fats must be added carefully into a ration to prevent rumen function from being depressed.