Forage Focus 2019: Increasing Profitability at the Feed Bunk
Candace Schiestel, a Dairy Specialist with ADM Animal Nutrition, was the second speaker at Forage Focus 2019 conference on December 5. Her presentation was titled “Increasing Profitability at the Feed Bunk.”
Schiestel, in her work with ADM, has noticed that feed costs for lactating and dry cows on dairy farms ranges between 25 and 35 percent of total gross revenue from milk. That 10% range in feed costs can represent a significant amount of money, and Schiestel has identified some things that dairy farmers can do to get their feed prices closer to the lower end of the spectrum while still maintaining animal health and feed quality.
First, monitoring dry matter and dry matter intake is crucial to maintaining feed costs. Ensuring that Total Mixed Ration (TMR) is accurately mixed and the TMR mixer is calibrated is an easy adjustment that can save money. Simply making sure that the right amount of dry matter forage is added to the mix, and that that forage is actually dry, coupled with accurate amounts of other ingredients ensures that the cows are getting the nutrition they need at the right volumes without anything getting wasted before even reaching the bunk.
If the forage is wet, or too little is added, then that can leave cows underfed and affect milk production. Similarly, if forage is dry then too much may be added, which can lead to sorting and feed being wasted at the feed bunk. Cows refusing feed costs money, and even feeding the leftover TMR to heifers afterwards results in some lost feed, and by extension lost money.
Once the feed has reached the bunk there are steps the farmer can take to make sure feeding is done efficiently. First, to the earlier point, the TMR should be evenly mixed, to ensure that when the feed is spread out at the bunk there aren’t areas of feed that the cows prefer. If this is the case, the cows could push and shove and try to get to the best stuff, which is inefficient and bad for animal health. Keeping the feed quality even and evenly spread across the feed bunk allows all animals to have equal access to the feed they need with reduced stress.
Keeping the feed pushed up is also a good practice. When cows eat the feed they push the feed around, eating the best parts, sorting out the less tasty bits and sometimes pushing food out of reach. Pushing this feed back towards the bunk keeps the feed mixed, which reduces sorting, and it also keeps the feed in reach of the cow, and evenly spread. Schiestel suggested that pushing the feed up every half hour for the first two hours after feeding allows the less dominant cows who don’t get first crack at the feed an opportunity to eat.
The quality of the forage in the TMR is also a very important aspect of good feed practices. Keeping the quality and type of forage used in your TMR consistent is a good way to maintain animal health. This means that you must have the appropriate forage inventory and keep an eye on the inventory throughout the year. When storing forage for winter, you know what you’ll need to have stored in order to make it until next harvest, but during winter you should frequently reassess your inventory to make sure you’re still on track and won’t run out early. That said, it’s important to have a backup plan in case of poor quality forage or poor forage yields.
In conclusion, good feed management practices can help dairy farmers increase their profit margins by decreasing their feed costs.