With another harvest in the rear-view mirror, it is time to take inventory of what you have to feed and what you can afford to feed. With milk prices around $16.00/cwt and a bumper crop of corn and corn silage, many dairymen will try feeding a high corn silage ration to lower costs and remain profitable. High corn silage/forage rations can be a very cost effective way to make milk. Before you get started on that ration, however, I recommend you and your nutritionist sit down and take inventory of the forages you have available. Since it is wetter than hay or haylage, you may end up feeding more pounds of corn silage than you were thinking. Also, diet intakes can go up due to the better fiber digestibility of corn silage, compared to alfalfa feeds. Your goal should be to maximize the use of the forages that you have on hand without running out before the next crop is harvested and has time to ferment. A 30-day carryover of corn silage is nice, but a 90-day carryover maintains intakes better. It is farther through the fermentation process, and helps maintain production a lot better. Similarly, a 30-day carryover of haylage is much better than no carryover or only a two-week carryover.
Do things differently
With a higher forage/corn silage ration, I recommend you take samples on a more frequent basis than in the past. You want to catch nutrient changes in the forages before they have a chance to affect production. You also want to catch moisture changes sooner, so you feed the correct ration to your cows every day. NOTE: If you do not have a Koster tester to dry down your forages, it would be a good investment this year. You cannot afford to have a moisture change cost you milk and profits. Another good practice with a higher forage/corn silage ration is to check for mold, yeasts, and mycotoxins. Even low levels of a toxin or mold can result in production or breeding issues, since the cows are consuming a lot more of that feed. On the flip side, if your forages are clean of these items, then you can feel safe lowering the feeding rates of the additives that help with these issues, to help reduce your out-of-pocket ration costs.
Evaluate feed additives
The additives shown to deliver a good return on your investment (ROI) even with low milk prices are Rumensin®, buffers, yeast culture, and amino acid balancing. Most of you are probably familiar with the information that shows how Rumensin increases the energy yield of a diet by adjusting the VFA profile in the rumen. You know how buffers help stabilize rumen pH and how yeast culture helps with fiber digestion and intakes, especially in fresh cows, so I won’t go into details on these items. I hesitate to even refer to amino acid products as feed additives. Having the proper lysine to methionine ratio in a ration has been shown time and time again to increase milk production, component yields, and antidotal health and reproduction. With a low milk price, one way to increase your milk check and profitability is by producing more components and getting those production bonuses. Balancing for amino acids is the most cost effective way to do that while maintaining or even increasing milk production. When it comes to the multitude of other feed additives that can be fed, I suggest evaluating the product claims. Ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain by feeding them?” Often, a small change in a feeding or management practice can result in the same health or production effects as feeding an additive, without the added costs. So, before you either cut something out of your ration or add it to the ration, do a little evaluation. Talk with your nutritionist and your veterinarian about what is needed and whether the product offers an acceptable ROI.
Crunch the numbers
Back on the topic of a high corn silage/forage ration, I would remind you that the most limiting nutrient for milk production is energy. If your forages are low in energy and you plan to feed a lot of them, you will still need to supplement the ration to maintain milk production. If the silage is dry or poorly processed, or if it is low in fiber digestion (NDFd 30 hour < 50%), it may feed like it is lower in energy than the forage test reports. In that case, you should work with your Munson Lakes nutritionist on the best way to supplement your cows to maintain milk production. Alternatively, you may have to settle for a slightly lower level of production and a lower out-of-pocket feed expense. Both philosophies can work to maintain profitability, but everyone needs to be on the same page. Don’t just lower the feeding rate of your supplement and hope it helps you remain profitable. Instead consult your nutritionist, veterinarian, and outside feed representative and even your agronomist, and come up with a plan that works for everyone and for the cows.
Put your team to work
With today’s lower milk prices, on-farm profitability can be harder to maintain. Sitting down with your consultant team to evaluate your situation, your goals, and your feed supplies is still the best way to keep the cows milking and your farm profitable. The sooner you do that, the sooner a game plan can be put into action. If you have any questions on what to feed this year, in view of the lower milk prices—or if you would like to hear our perspective on feeding a higher forage/corn silage diet, feel free to contact me or any of your Munson Lakes nutrition team members.
In March of 2012, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated to the United Nations Globally Harmonized Standard for Classification of Chemicals (GHS) to include "Feed and Grain" dust as a Hazard.
Starting June 2015, all manufacturers of bulk and bag feed and/or grain are required to notify the end user about hazard associated with "Feed and/or Grain Dust" by providing a Safety Data Sheet (SDS).
The attached sheets have been provided to inform you about the Hazards associated with dust in the handling of Feed and/or Grain.
If you have any question or concerns, please contact me.
Brian J. Yager, HACCP Feed and Safety Compliance Officer 320.543.2561 firstname.lastname@example.org
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