Feed is the biggest cost for a dairy farm. When milk prices decline, it is tempting to cut feed costs, however, cows should still be fed a balanced ration in order to maximise yield.
When milk prices decline, it may feel like there is not much you can do. However, there are still many things a farmer can do with the diets and feeding management to maintain profitability or minimise losses. Here are some of the things to take note of:
1. Maximise high quality, homegrown forages and grains
Feeding homegrown ingredients will lower feed costs as the amount of feed purchased is reduced.
It is also important to have proper timing of harvest in order to achieve high yield.
To maintain quality and reduce dry matter loss, make sure it is stored appropriately.
2. Consider affordable byproduct ingredients
There are many byproduct that is affordable in the market.
However, their nutrient content varies greatly. It is important to test frequently to make sure they are fit for your feeding program.
It is important to work with a reliable supplier that will assure these ingredients have stable nutrient content and is free from bacteria and other hazards.
To reduce dietary nutrient variation from using byproducts, it is encouraged to incorporate multiple ingredients into the ration.
3. Focus on milk component
There are some markets that will pay a premium for milk fat or protein.
Make sure your feeding strategy maximises the milk component yields to help increase income.
One way to increase milk component is to make sure there is optimal ruminal fermentation with proper balance of fibrous and non fibrous carbohydrates alongside with quality rumen-degradable and undegradable proteins.
4. Maximising milk quality premiums
Generally, proper sanitation and milking protocols are the most important factors for maintaining milk quality.
However, feeding programs can also help to maintain a proper functioning immune system which will help combat mastitis and lower somatic cell counts.
5. Minimising shrink
Shrink is defined as the feed purchased or harvested that doesn't get into the cow.
These include dry matter losses from poorly stored silage as well as excessive feed refusals or inaccurate mixing.
6. Number of TMRs
Although TMRs can of a group can provide labour savings in some herd, those savings may be outweighed by inefficient use of nutrients when the milk prices are low.
The ration is normally design to meet the needs of highest producing cows. However, it can be wasteful when feeding it to mid and late lactation animals.
Farmers should evaluate whether an additional ration would fit a feeding group's needs better and improve efficiency.
7. Use of feed additives
It is recommended to only use scientifically proven feed additives.
Work with your nutritionist to verify the product before feeding your herd.
If you ever thought of removing the use of feed additives, it is important to remember that it may not have an immediate impact on milk yield at the start, but it may affect production in the future.
Milk prices will eventually rebound and it is not wise to sacrifice future performance which will hurt overall profitability.
8. Transition feeding programs
Specialised ration for cows immediately before and after calving seems expensive initially, but the payback on effective transition cow feeding and management program is high.
These special diets fed for a short amount of time can reuslt in lower disease incidence, improve fertility and higher milk yield.
9. Replacement animal ration
It is tempting to cut back on heifer feeding program as they do not contribute directly to milk income.
However, it is not a good idea to make changes that will slow heifer growth, which ultimately will reduce first lactation milk yield.
10. Maximise reproduction performance
It is crucial to have cows begin cycling early, bred successfully and complete pregnancy with delivery of a healthy calf.
Cows need a proper transition feeding and management program to avoid any diseases after calving that will lower fertility.
They need sufficient energy and proper balance of proteins to maintain body condition score so that they can cycle properly and producing a healthy embryo.
These 10 points are important to consider regardless of milk price but it is especially important when the prices are low and there is less room for error.
Workout with your nutritionist to develop a high quality feeding program and use current ingredient costs to analyse in order to not only survive this tough period but thrive when milk prices recover.