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Three questions dairy producers should ask their nutritionists

Chad Mullins for Progressive Dairyman Published on 28 February 2017
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As a nutrition consultant, I want nothing more than to see my clients thrive. When their dairy has success, so does the family and community around them. With success, however, human nature can allow us to sometimes get stuck in a rut because what we are doing has worked in the past.

In contrast, the dairy industry is ever-evolving, and it isn’t waiting on anyone. A diligent producer will ask questions from those around them to help make sure they are capturing the correct opportunities.

A good nutrition consultant is there to do more than just ration formulation. This nutritionist serves as outside eyes constantly looking for their clients’ next opportunity. To help keep the relationship between producers and nutritionists from becoming stalled, I would really encourage producers to ask their nutritionists these three questions:

1. How do my dairy’s feed costs stack up against other producers?

The winning formula for any industry revolves around having the lowest cost of production per unit of output. The dairy industry is no exception. In good times, it allows producers to improve profits and invest for the business’s future. In bad times, controlling the cost of production allows the dairy to weather storms longer. Feed costs are often the largest expense to producing milk, so when examining cost control, feed costs demand attention.

Your nutritionist should get around to enough different operations and have a broad enough network to be able to tell you how your feed cost compares with the industry norms. Feed cost per cow is not enough, however. When looking at feed costs diligently, one should be examining feed cost per hundredweight. Cost per hundredweight will overshadow the entire feeding program. Calculating feed costs per hundredweight properly accounts for the facility’s milk sold. In addition, it should encompass everything from the forage program and commodity procurement all the way through to wasted feed.

2. Why are the nutrition recommendations you make best for my dairy?

As mentioned, the dairy industry is ever-evolving. Most producers view their nutritionist as a key advisor to help their dairy stay up to speed. The producer needs to be confident the information they receive is current and solid. As a nutritionist, good training, broad exposure, continuing education and networking are paramount for staying up to speed. Your nutritionist should be able to tell you what practices they do to stay current. As a producer in an industry with such tight margins, receiving cutting-edge information can be the difference between surviving and thriving.

The dairy industry is unique; there has never been a successful one-size-fits-all model. In fact, that is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the dairy industry. We can have two neighboring dairies with identical resources, yet they run their operations completely different and both get to enjoy success. By completely different, I mean everything is different from the barn style all the way through to manure management and the crops grown. The nutritional advice that the first dairy receives most likely needs to be different than what the second dairy recieves.

Your nutritionist should know your dairy well and be able to talk through the ration’s makeup, why nutrient specs are set where they are, and how it all fits with feed inventory. This question should yield conversation that highlights a nutrition program tailored toward the best interests of your dairy.

3. What are the next five steps up the ladder to gaining another pound of milk?

Today’s dairy cows have incredible genetic potential to produce milk and a high-producing cow is a healthy cow. High-producing cows often have the best productive efficiency, which is vital for profitability and minimizing environmental impact. Oftentimes, the cap on milk production can be attributed to the setting we keep the cows in. An article by Dale Bauman once argued, “Top cows do not become stressed because they achieve a high milk output – rather they achieve a high milk production because they have minimal stress.” Your nutritionist is showing up with outside eyes, and they should be able to identify these stresses that cause milk production bottlenecks at your dairy.

In my experience, some rich dialogue can happen just by talking through a list of five steps the dairy can take to improve milk production. Then together make a plan on how you will take those next five steps.

Communication is crucial in any business. As a nutritionist, I appreciate it when my clients are engaged and ask good questions. Use these three questions to generate dialogue with your nutritionist – what you discuss could be the difference between standing still and progress.  end mark

Chad Mullins
  • Chad Mullins

  • Nutritionist
  • Dairystrong Consulting LLC
  • GPS Dairy Consulting LLC

PHOTO: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

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