On Tony Brubaker’s Pennsylvania dairy farm, they began dry matter intake tracking 15 years ago. While these numbers were good to know, Brubaker said they didn’t do much with this information until they started to compare these data points with other aspects on the farm, such as milk production. He explained how they now utilize these numbers during a Center for Dairy Excellence podcast.
Brubaker, his brother, Mike, and nephew, Josh, are partners on a 1,300-cow dairy near Mt. Joy, Pa. They initially purchased a feed tracking system to get a handle on how much cows were eating. However, once his nephew came back to the dairy, Josh was able to utilize his skill set to create an interactive spreadsheet in Google Sheets. In addition to dry matter intake, they also input other factors such as pounds of production per cow, feed costs per pound of dry matter, and price per hundredweight of milk.
With those few numbers in place, Brubaker said they can break down the data in many different ways, including income over feed cost, cost per cow per day, cost per hundredweight, feed efficiency, component efficiency, and employee efficiency. It only takes a little time and effort to input the numbers into the spreadsheet, but Brubaker said the information obtained is invaluable.
“As we make feed changes, we know in real time how it is affecting our bottom line,” he said. “We can make very accurate, very quick decisions based on what management changes we are making.”
They also use this data to do goal setting with their employees in the areas of milk quality and feed management. An electronic dashboard located where timecards are punched gives employees an opportunity to see the herd’s current performance metrics.
While they use an electronic feed tracking system, Brubaker said tracking dry matter is not difficult. “You don’t need a tracker system to do that,” he said. Brubaker encouraged farms without a system to track dry matter intake using hand calculations once a week to get a baseline for the herd.
“What you measure you treasure,” Brubaker said. “These things that we are measuring every day on a real time basis have given us such valuable information in so many ways. And we are continuing to learn new ways to utilize it to track and manage what we are doing.”
One recent discovery was the relationship of brown mid-rib (BMR) corn silage to feed efficiency in their herd. When they started feeding BMR corn silage three years ago, Brubaker said feed efficiency dropped even though the cows were milking well. To counter this, they went back to incorporating a percentage of conventional corn silage in the ration. That slowed digestion down a bit, and while they maintained the improvement in milk production, they also brought feed efficiency back to where they wanted it to be.
“The goal is always high production, but we want to get high production as efficiently as possible,” he explained. “If we are not tracking, we would never be able to monitor progress and, ultimately, the bottom line of the dairy.”
Brubaker reiterated that one of the main lessons they learned is that dry matter intake tracking is most useful if compared to other measurements on the dairy. “Otherwise, it is just a number, and you don’t quite know what to do with it other than make it higher,” he said. On the flip side, when dry matter intake is connected to a few other key indicators on the dairy, a lot can be learned, and in the end, it is all tied to the dairy’s bottom line.
“It’s hard to put a price on how valuable that information is,” he said.