Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

1108 PD: Teach employees about measuring feed efficiency

Elliot Block Published on 24 July 2008

With input costs on a continual rise, the words feed efficiency are the latest buzzwords. Feed efficiency has long been a cornerstone for the livestock industry, and dairy producers should help feed managers realize the value of the calculation to ensure each pound of feed is utilized properly by every cow. Here are some tips to accurately measure feed efficiency in your herd.

Feed efficiency compares two numbers we watch closely on the dairy – how many pounds of feed a cow is eating and how much milk is produced from that feed.



Measuring feed efficiency can be done by dividing pounds of milk by pounds of DMI. Here’s how you can arrive at each number:

• Pounds of milk per cow can be taken from the bulk tank or from your milk testing report. Divide by cow numbers to arrive at average production per cow.

• DMI per cow may be a little harder to calculate. Use the following steps:

1. Measure the total pounds of feed delivered to the feedbunk.

2. From the total pounds, subtract the pounds of refusals, once they are collected from the bunk.


3. Divide the total pounds of feed consumed by the number of animals eating the feed. This should give you an average DMI per cow.

Experts recommend a feed efficiency goal of 1.5, which means cows produce 1.5 pounds of milk for every pound of feed consumed. On the dairy, this means a cow consuming 50 pounds of feed must produce 75 pounds of milk to reach the feed efficiency goal. As DMI increases, so must milk production to maximize efficiencies.

Feed efficiency is often improved when the ration is appropriately digested, which means the rumen microbes are able to utilize ration ingredients for the cow’s daily maintenance while contributing to high levels of milk and component production. Other factors influence feed efficiency, including:

Fermentation. Rumen fermentation, while maintaining a stable rumen environment, improves feed efficiency. More feed is broken down and utilized by rumen microbes, resulting in higher outputs from the same amount of feed.

Age. Younger cows are more apt to have lower feed efficiencies than older, more mature animals. This is often caused by young cows diverting nutrients to growth throughout lactation.

Cow comfort. Cows walking long distances to and from the parlor spend additional energy on maintenance. The same rule holds true if feedbunks, waterers or comfortable resting areas are far from one another. Use a clean, dry bedding source to ensure stall usage and comfort. Provide adequate feedbunk space to maximize intake and performance.


Stage of lactation. Cows in the milking string less than three weeks will often experience lower feed efficiency, as consumed energy is less than what is needed for milk production.

Weather conditions. Exposure to extreme weather, including heat-stress conditions or bitter cold, can cause a decline in feed efficiency. More feed is being used for maintenance rather than production, and rumen microbes are often less efficient during extreme weather conditions. PD