As farmers across the country navigate drought conditions and rising feed costs, many are looking at ways to stretch feed inventories. Small changes in your feed management program can result in big savings.
Here are our top five tips to tighten up protocols, revisit the basics and get creative to ensure your feed inventories don’t sneak away:
1. Evaluate heifer inventory
Evaluating heifer inventory is just as important as calculating feed inventories.
“Ensure heifer inventory matches your farm’s future replacement needs to help manage tight feed inventories,” says Taliah Danzinger, VAS education specialist. “If you’re feeding more heifers than you’ll need in the future, it likely doesn’t pencil out to keep them all when costs are high.”
Review cow cull rate, heifer survival rate and the number of heifers born monthly. If your cull rate decreases, you might not need as many heifers to replace older cows. Recalculate your heifer inventory if you experience a change in heifer survival rate from birth to first calving.
“Reviewing your semen use and ratio of sexed, conventional and beef semen can also help curb costs,” says Danzinger. “Consider the number of heifer calves you anticipate over the next six months and if you should keep them all.” Managing heifer inventory from wet calf to springer can save money on feed and help market females at the right time.
2. Check for ration mixing errors
While we expect our feed to make it into the mixer at the set ingredient amounts, mistakes can happen. Carefully review data from your feed management software, like VAS FeedWatch, for mixing errors.
“Review timing between ingredients, volume of ingredients used and ingredient order,” says Danzinger. “Overfeeding an ingredient instead of returning it to the commodity bay is a nearly invisible way feed gets lost.”
Most feed software can flag when an ingredient is added too quickly after another, indicating extra was left in the loader bucket before grabbing the next ingredient.
“Keeping a close eye on actual weights of each ingredient added can add up too — especially if weighbacks or refusal volume isn’t where you’d like to see it,” says Danzinger.
Mixing order matters. Add ingredients in the appropriate order and ensure proper mixing to avoid feed waste at the bunk from sorting.
3. Recalculate inventory and regularly walk it
Did sloppy spring weather rob you of feed inventory? Did you have unexpected spoilage, a big rain washout or a bad spot in the bunker?
“Take frequent feed inventories and recalculate needs to determine when it’s time to make a ration change to help stretch a forage until the next crop is available,” says Danzinger.
By staying ahead of forage inventory you can make proactive feed changes to save costs.
4. Dig in to shrink and weighbacks
Does your fresh pen have the same refusal goal as your low group? Should they? Consider your goals and make sure your weights add up. If they don’t, it’s time to do some investigating.
“Keep your feeder aware of pen moves and number changes before making a new batch of feed,” says Danzinger.
If you’re using VAS FeedWatch as your feed management software, pen numbers will automatically update from DairyComp herd management software.
Consider target weighbacks. Keep in mind shrink isn’t just the feed that blows away. Are fresh cows’ needs being met when they’re fed to an empty bunk?
“Unprocessed corn kernels in manure, excess nutrient volume beyond a cows’ needs in an unbalanced ration and spoiled feed are all sneaky ways shrink can cost you money,” says Danzinger.
5. Explore alternative feed byproducts
Cows are some of nature’s best recyclers. Feeding byproducts is another way to manage feed costs and contribute to a sustainable future.
“Having a grasp on forage inventories to optimize inclusion rate is the best way to leverage byproducts,” says Danzinger. “If forage inventories are tight, consider dialing back inclusion rates early to use less byproducts over a longer period rather than adjusting them quickly.”
Whole cottonseed, wheat midds, soy hulls and other byproducts can help bring stability to a ration when forages are tight.
“It’s always best to plan for flexibility in product choices and secure sources,” says Danzinger.
Work with a VAS expert to evaluate more ways you can reduce feed costs on your farm. Learn more at web.vas.com.
VAS is the global market leader in connected farm management systems. As the operating system of choice for the most innovative dairies, VAS software and information solutions help collect and connect a farm’s data – from herd management records, to feed and nutrition records, to crop science management records. These insights are a source of truth, empowering producers and their trusted advisors to make profit-driven and sustainable management decisions. At the forefront of thought leadership within the dairy industry, VAS is trusted by the producers we serve and the greater dairy community.