This time of the year, many people are thinking about their own goals for the year ahead. It is also a good time to set targets for the dairy, and that was the topic of discussion during a recent "Cornell Cow Convos" podcast.
Tom Overton, a professor of animal science at Cornell University, outlined a few numbers and factors dairy farmers could look at in terms of feed management and establishing resolutions for 2024.
“Feed represents 30% to 50% of the cost of making milk on some dairies,” he began. “It is the largest expense of making milk on the dairy.”
To drill down on those costs, Overton suggested that farms make it a habit to monitor their income over feed costs. This can be calculated using the income generated by milk minus the feed costs.
He noted that milk price is obviously a major factor driving income over feed cost. So is milk component output. Another important factor is feed efficiency, which is pounds of energy corrected milk based on milk components and milk yield divided by dry matter intake.
Another goal for the coming year is to produce forage that is of high quality. “Herds that have adequate amounts of high-quality forage generally have the best income over feed cost,” he shared. Aim to harvest at the right maturity and fiber digestibility. Focus on silage management to prevent losses and optimize the use of forages.
The next resolution he shared was to feed the ration that is formulated. “You can have the best forages and the best diet on paper, but if it is not translated consistently into what cows eat every day, we are not going to be where we need to be,” he said.
Farms that excel in this area do a good job monitoring dry matter intake. They also monitor the accuracy of feeding, often using feed management software. Timing of feed delivery, chop length, and harvest moisture all play roles as well.
“Being accurate and consistent gives us consistent outputs,” Overton said. He encouraged producers to touch base with their nutritionist and other team members to overview the farm’s feeding program. Analyze forage quality, the value of additives, and watch for research that might fit your farm. Feed should be a continual conversation, now and into the new year.