Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Progressive panel: Feed and nutrition

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 11 February 2013


Our progressive panel is back this issue to discuss challenges, successes and lessons learned in feed and forage management.



Panelists are:

  • Brian Brown, Sunburst Dairy, Belleville, Wisconsin
  • Greg Hooker, Diamond H Dairy, Chowchilla, California
  • Don Risser, Meadow Vista Dairy, Bainbridge, Pennsylvania


How has last year’s drought impacted the dairy’s nutrition program this year?

brown brian full

BROWN: The drought has dealt everyone issues that we’re not used to dealing with on a normal year.


Feeds and moistures are more variable, starch levels are short in the corn silage, and we have to keep an eye on molds. We’ll have to deal with this until new feeds are fed.

HOOKER: The biggest impact has been from an economic standpoint. The drought has driven up prices in 100 percent of our grain needs.

It drove up corn and soybean prices and everything that went with it. However, the drought hasn’t impacted forage prices quite as dramatically.

RISSER: Fortunately, we did not experience the dry conditions suffered by many in the country. We have adequate corn silage, haylage and ryelage, so we are feeding our usual ration this year.


Is the ration more forage-heavy or concentrate-based than usual?


hooker greg full

BROWN: We have maintained our forage base ration. We purchased extra feed during the growing season.

HOOKER: It is, slightly. Again, it comes down to economics.

The price of alfalfa hay has only increased slightly, so we’re feeding more alfalfa as opposed to soybean meal or canola. We have made some changes, but not huge changes.

RISSER: As stated above, our ration is our usual ratio of forage to grain.

We run 56 percent to 59 or 60 percent forage dry matter, depending on forage quality and time of year. Summer diets are a bit more dense to compensate for the hot weather.


Fill in the blank for your dairy’s nutritionist: I’m always begging my dairy clients to ...

risser don full

BROWN: ... stick to the basics. Day in and day out, monitor intakes and moistures. Keep things consistent and communicate things when they are happening.

HOOKER: … improve things in all areas of the dairy. Our nutritionist recommends changes in keeping cows comfortable and getting them pregnant quickly.

Those surrounding factors impact how the cow is going to process the ration.

Specific to feeding, our nutritionist pushes for proper feed area management on a consistent basis.

He points out ways to accomplish better packing in silages and putting it up at the right moisture. He gives us tips on face management and bulk management, making sure we’re feeding for some refusal.

RISSER: ... make higher-quality forages. High-quality forages make his job easy. They also lower overall feed costs and make a healthier diet for the cows.


What metric do you use to track feed costs? (income over feed cost, cost per cow per day, cost per pound of dry matter, cost per hundredweight of milk, etc.)

BROWN: We are using all of the above in one way or the other. At the end of the day, it is income over feed cost.

HOOKER: Our primary measurement is cost per hundredweight (cwt) because it really gives us an idea of our feed efficiency and how efficiently our cows are converting feed.

Income over feed cost is another important tool for us. Sometimes you do have to make ration changes where you’re giving up some milk production to accommodate for high feed costs.

But in my experience, very rarely does it pay to play with the ration too much. By the time you adjust it, milk prices have swung back the other way and you need to change the ration back. There is a trend line there that we certainly pay attention to, but as a general rule of thumb, I try to keep the ration consistent.

RISSER: I use all of those metrics, depending on what I want to know. I probably use cost per pound of dry matter and cost per cwt of milk the most.

Cost per pound of dry matter lets me track feed cost alone over time, where income over feed cost has all the variables of milk price, pounds of milk per day, feed costs and dry matter intake all included in one number.

Cost per cow per day is the least useful to me, although the total grocery bill per day does impress my non-farm friends.


Is your ration amino acid-balanced?

BROWN: Our ration is an amino acid-balanced ration. This type of ration has allowed the cows to perform better – more efficient and gaining increased components.

HOOKER: Our nutritionist routinely looks at it, but at this point, we’re not specifically amino acid-balancing the ration. We did a trial several years ago, and we found it didn’t pay to feed supplemental amino acids.

We have a diet that’s pretty diverse with nine or 10 different ingredients. We’re able to get the appropriate amino acid balance through that without feeding supplemental amino acids.

RISSER: Yes. We have done this for so long I’m not sure what my ration would look like otherwise. I think it is the only way to accurately balance for protein availability to cost-effectively meet the needs of high-producing cows.


Name one commodity you wish you could be feeding more of but it’s not available and/or not priced right.

BROWN: Our rations are comparable to past rations as we purchased needed feeds earlier in the season. Costs are much different than we are used to and availability isn’t always as consistent as in the past.

HOOKER: It seems like everything is priced too high. Cottonseed is the “holy grail” of milk cow rations, but we are biting the bullet and feeding a fair amount of that already. If I had it available locally, I would feed more corn silage.

Right now, we grow our own, and I wish I could grow more. One other thing I’d like to mention is that we don’t do a lot of different rations for individual groups of cows. Most of our cows get the same high-cow ration, just different amounts of it.

About 8 percent of the cows receive a low-string ration, and another 5 percent get the fresh cow ration. Lots of different rations for groups hasn’t worked for us, and in my opinion, it’s not worth the added complexity.

RISSER: I used wet distillers 18 months ago, hoping to reduce feed costs. The quality was inconsistent from load to load and I lost components using it. I wish I had a consistent supply of high-quality distillers or brewers at a competitive price. PD

Emily Caldwell
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