“I like to think about what we do when we build rations is we’re really babysitting the confluence of economics and biology. We’re trying to find the best way to take feed and convert that feed cost into milk income,” said Steve Martin during the April 6 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream.
There’s no more important time to drill down on that purpose than when costs for just about every purchased feed are climbing to new highs. Martin works with farmers mostly in the West and Southwest in his nutrition consulting business, and he noted that some of his customers are dealing with costs for things like soybean meal and corn silage that are even higher than typical prices for organic versions of those products.
Every good idea on how to feed cows better in this environment matters, Martin emphasized. He shared three tactical things he’s looking at and encouraging his customers to reevaluate, beginning with feed shrink. “Shrink, right now, costs a lot more than it used to,” he said. This could be a good time to clean up your feed areas and evaluate if feed is being lost in mixing, storage, or delivery.
Martin’s next area to scrutinize was the heifer ration. “Are you letting your heifers tell you how much they want to eat and just filling them to appetite and growing a nice replacement heifer?” he asked. “Or can we be more thoughtful about that and look to a targeted program?”
If you’re not yet feeding rations more targeted to specific heifer groups, there is plenty of opportunity to reduce costs, and most nutritionists are experienced with these types of formulations, Martin said. He added that there are many ways to build a heifer ration, and just like with cows, we need to think about delivering nutrients, not necessarily specific ingredients.
One other point in this enterprise could be examining the size of your heifer herd. “Why are we feeding what we won’t milk?” Martin asked.
Finally, he advised dialing in on milk urea nitrogen (MUN) values to ensure nitrogen is being fed efficiently. Goals for that number will vary between customers and between nutritionists, but he reminded that having excess expensive protein being wasted in MUN is not a good economic decision.
At the end of the day, building rations in an environment of high feed costs is just about getting better at what we’re already good at, Martin said. This means taking more samples, feeding nutrients instead of ingredients, and working to maximize income over feed cost.
To watch the recording of the April 6 DairyLivestream, go to the link above. The program recording is also available as an audio-only podcast on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and downloadable from the Hoard’s Dairyman website.
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