There are options despite high costs

I remember thinking that $3 corn was outrageous, that $300 soybean meal was a rip-off and that $200 cottonseed must have been a revenge of the Confederates.
How much I would like to see these prices again!

We’ve had high corn prices in the past; we’ve experienced high soybean meal and cottonseed prices, also. Some years, hay has been very expensive, as well.

But we were getting hit with only one calamity at a time. When hay was expensive, corn was cheap. What is unique about the current upsurge in feed prices is that all prices went up. And based on the current supply and demand situation, it is unlikely that we will see cheap feeds anytime soon.

Suggestions

So, what is a dairy producer to do?

  • Cows do not require corn, soybean meal or cottonseed.
  • Cows require nutrients and these are supplied by feeds.

    There are an infinite number of rations that can be put together to provide the same supply of nutrients and, thus, result in the same level of production. This is, in fact, the essence of applied nutrition science.

    Cows do not have a requirement for corn. So when corn is expensive, you can substitute some or all of the corn by a combination of other feeds. For example, the results of two well-controlled experiments have shown that cows milk just the same even when all the corn that made up 40 percent of the ration was substituted by barley.

    A good, professional nutritionist can be of great help to put together a good ration that is also cost effective.

  • Relax the ration formulation constraints on starch and nonfiber carbohydrates levels.
  • Levels

    The recommended levels used by many nutritionists were generated in an era of cheap corn. The production response to starch and nonfiber carbohydrates is not large.

    When we aggregated the results from four well-controlled studies, we found that the optimum level of starch was somewhere between 24-41 percent of the ration dry matter. The optimum nonfiber carbohydrates was between 37-49 percent of dry matter. These are hardly tight and narrow boundaries.

  • What was cheap last month may no longer be cheap.
  • Feeds prices keep jockeying for room in livestock rations.

    Two years ago, soybean hulls were very cheap, about one-third the price of corn. Today, they sell at over 80 percent of corn prices; they are severely overpriced. So unless you have a very good reason for using soybean hulls, they should not be part of your dairy rations right now.

    Bargain feeds

    To find out what feedstuffs are currently bargain feeds and which ones are overpriced, consult the Ohio State University Extension dairy newsletter Buckeye Dairy News at http://dairy.osu.edu. You will find that even at a price close to $6 per bushel, corn is currently a bargain compared to many other feeds.

    Last spring, at $3.25 per bushel, corn was actually overpriced.

  • Feed more forage of better quality.
  • A large dataset from California showed that the difference between a fair-quality corn silage (average of 46.5 percent NDF) and a very good-quality corn silage (average of 39 percent NDF) resulted in an income difference of $91.50 per 100 cows per day.

    That’s a lot of dough entirely within your reach.

  • Know what you are feeding.
  • How often do you sample your forage for laboratory testing? How often do you check the moisture in your silages?

    Sample savings

    Our research at Ohio State has shown that forages are sampled too infrequently on most of our farms. An optimal sampling schedule can generate an extra $90 per cow per year.

    When feed prices go up and the profit margins are squeezed, it is very tempting to cut on the feed testing expenses. The opposite should be done to ensure that the rations fed are as close as possible to the rations that were formulated.

    You can’t control market prices of feeds, but there are ways to reduce the impact of high feed prices on your farm.

    About the Author

    Normand St-Pierre is an Extension dairy specialist at Ohio State University. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460. More Stories by Normand St-Pierre

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