Feeding for profitability
The question on every dairy producer's mind each year, and particularly more so this year, is: "How can my operation stay profitable this year?" This is a valid question in today's market and one that can be hard to answer with so many inputs, outputs, checks and balances.
Turning to higher forage-based rations, putting up brown-mid rib corn silage, utilizing cover crops to provide additional forage, formulating rations with protein contents closer to the cow's requirements and eliminating inorganic sources of phosphorus are just a few examples of steps many producers are taking to maintain a positive cash flow.
"Before producers start eliminating feed additives and slowing down production, they may want to consider making some changes in management and utilizing some new technologies," said Byron Housewright, Ph.D., Nutrition Service Company.
Housewright, who spoke at this year's Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, S.D., says producers should focus on five key areas for profitability this year.
1. Input costs--Do you know what your cost to produce a hundredweight of milk is? By knowing the cost per hundredweight, you can make better decisions on ration changes.
"If I raise the cost, how much milk must I get to return this cost to a previous level? If I lower cost, can I afford to lose production and still maintain my cost per hundredweight?" Housewright advises. "Be cautiously optimistic about byproducts and non-traditional feedstuffs."
2. Forages--"No matter how good a nutritionist is or may they think they are, none can make up for low quality forages," Housewright said. Use inoculants and remain diligent in cutting times and silo management.
3. Minerals and vitamins--Take another look at organic or chelated replacements. "This is not a time to be cutting back too far, but also not a time to be adding beyond effectiveness," Housewright said.
4. Energy--"The big question is, are you buying corn or do you own it?" Housewright said. "The next question is, can you afford to own it and feed it?"
Alternatives to corn can also be pricey too, with corn starch at $295 per ton, lactose $533 per ton and barley at $200 per ton. The biggest concern with alternatives is the consistency and availability of the products. Wheat midds are a good alternative, but do not have the starch content. Malt sprouts are a very good soluble fiber, but consistency and availability are problems. The best time to use brewers grains is during times of high neutral detergent fiber forages. "This is where having high quality forages is of paramount importance," Housewright said.
5. Protein--Traditionally, protein is the largest cost in a dairy ration. What are some options for high cost proteins? Urea has been very useful in high corn silage rations as well as canola, linseed and sunflower meal. Some producers are also starting to incorporate sustained non protein nitrogen sources into their herd's diets.
Every farm is different and there is no sole answer for keeping a dairy operation profitable.
"Stick with the basics of starting with a good foundation--forages--and then appropriately build upon that for fiber, energy, minerals/vitamins and protein," Housewright said.