Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

0409 PD: Know your dairy farm feed costs

Jim Paulson Published on 25 February 2009
If you’re buying much feed from off-farm sources, you are well aware of higher feed prices. But what is your feed cost per cow per day, or feed cost per hundredweight? What is a reasonable cost in today’s market? Is there anything you can do to alleviate some of your already tightened margin?

University of Minnesota Extension has developed a feed cost calculator worksheet. It is a guide to calculate the cost per head per day for any animal on your farm, including lactating or dry cows, calves or heifers. This worksheet is available as an Excel spreadsheet on the university’s extension dairy website. Visit the website at for the “Know your feed cost” worksheet, more details and figures.

One of the difficult factors in calculating feed costs is coming up with an accurate cost or value of your home-grown forages. Your cost to produce your forage may have little to do with current market prices of hay or corn. You may be able to grow corn for silage or alfalfa and grass for forage at a lower cost than you would have to pay in today’s market.



One advantage to growing your own crops is you are choosing to make your crops a cost center, not a profit center, thereby putting the profit potential in your dairy operation or in the net farm profit, if the dairy is your main enterprise. Being in the dairy business does not allow us a lot of flexibility of enterprises or rotations.

What is a reasonable cost to feed a cow today? If we break it down by category, we figure that our home-grown forages should be the lowest cost per unit and forage should make up about half or more of the dry matter intake for a milking cow. The remaining portion is typically corn, soybean meal, cottonseed and perhaps corn distillers, other proteins along with salt and minerals, additives and fat.

Generally, higher milk production may lead to higher daily cost per head but may result in a lower cost per hundredweight. We want to optimize milk production while controlling feed costs. We don’t want to lose milk production trying to save on feed costs. PD

—Excerpts from University of Minnesota news release, December 2008