Tips For Dealing With High Feed Cost
Part of good farm management includes reviewing all aspect of your feeding program regularly, regardless of what the current feed prices are. One of the main reason to review is to find out what is the primary weakness of the current feeding program.
More often than not, the primary weakness for most farms is related to forage quality, feed bunk management, or other aspects of the farm which prevents the animals from being as productive as they can be. These weakness are usually not related to the ration formulation. It is all the little things such as whether the cows are comfortable, stress free, having plenty of clean water available, having feed available when they are ready to eat and so on that will affect the cows' performance.
It is also important to ensure the cows' diet is kept constant. DM content of any wet feeds should be measured regularly and rations adjusted when needed to reduce any variation in terms of nutrient content in the cows' diet.
It is equally important to sample forages and other homegrown feed and have them analysed. This is because homegrown forages have a greater variation compared to purchased feeds. With that data available, you will be able to fine tune the rations, increasing milk yield and reducing the amount of feed needed.
Another important consideration is to review the mixing procedure as well as the information used for mixing the rations with the feeder to ensure that the rations mixed are the same as those formulated. A small mistake such as a misplaced decimal will caused a huge problem, affecting the feed cost as well as milk production.
Bunk feeds must be managed adequately as well to optimise the feed intake. Old feed should be removed each day to prevent spoilage of new feed. In order to ensure cows have access to feed at all times, feed should be pushed up several times a day. Sufficient bunk space must be provided for the cows as well. Recommended conditions are 2 linear feet per cow and more for fresh cows. Besides that, feeding amounts should be adjusted to minimise refusals. If feed refusals are primarily the fractions that are sorted out by the cow, it is recommended to increase the amount of feed offered.
Farmers should also monitor dairy efficiency. By knowing how much in terms of per pound of milk produced for each pound of DM consumed, one can get a good picture of the efficiency of a ration and economics. High producing cows should have a dairy efficiency of more than 1.6, whereas the average herd should have a dairy efficiency of 1.5. During warmer weathers, dairy efficiency will decrease. Supplemental cooling should optimised in order to maintain production and dairy efficiency.
It is good practice to establish production groups so that different rations can be formulated according to the group's respective needs. It is also encouraged to determine the value of the milk produced by each cow, either by current daily milk or lactation average, and then compare that with the current feed cost in order to find out which cow is profitable.