Reduce feed costs with these easy tips


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The current scenario of high feed costs, low milk prices, and less than ideal forage quality has put many producers in a quandary – how to get maximum production without going broke.

Here are 5 simple steps that a producer can follow to reduce feed costs without affecting production.

Evaluate. Evaluate the current forage inventory. Planning the year’s forage inventory allows for a projection of the concentrate ingredient usage.

This could be advantageous to locking in prices for certain commodities. If a complete grain mix is used, consider getting feed bids from at least three companies on the same formula.

Planning the 2002-2003 feeding strategy now not only helps control feed costs, but a cow’s performance is optimized when the ration remains consistent over the long term.

Anytime major changes occur to forage quantities fed, which requires the nutritionist to make significant alterations to the diet, usually result in decreased production.

Monitor. Monitor dry matters regularly on high moisture feeds.

Control the ration being fed by monitoring dry matter of the silages and high moisture grain on a routine basis.

This can reduce the risk of over-feeding or under-feeding a forage or a concentrate and causing an imbalance of nutrients, especially protein and energy.

Check. Check mineral levels in the diet, especially phosphorus.

Most nutritionists are guilty to some degree of including a buffer when formulating diets. For many dairy farms, this is unnecessary.

Phosphorus is a good example. There have been numerous studies conducted over multiple lactations that show diets formulated to the 2001 NRC recommendations will not impede production or reproduction.

Try this simple check: Look at the current ration for the lactating herd. If the phosphorus level is greater than 0.44 percent, than it is very likely that the phosphorus level can be lowered which will help reduce feed costs.

An Excel spreadsheet is available from Penn State which evaluates groups of cows and lists phosphorus requirements based on the new NRC.

To obtain a copy of the spreadsheet, e-mail

Reduce. Consider reducing protein in the ration by at least 1 percent.

Cows technically do not have a crude protein requirement per se, but rather requirements for amino acids. Protein levels can be lowered if the following criteria are met:

* The nutritionist is balancing for rumen degradable and undegradable protein.

* A computer model is being used that examines the levels of amino acids in the diet.

* Forage quality is not a limiting factor affecting dry matter intake.

* Milk urea nitrogen (is being used as a tool to evaluate the nutritional status of the herd.

* The herd is being monitored on a regular basis for production and milk components.

Justify. Justify the use of a feed additive. The vast majority of farms are feeding multiple additives to their cows.

Now is the time to seriously evaluate and prioritize additives being fed and what they are providing to the cow.

For example, it is highly probable that molds and mycotoxins will be an issue this year. In this case, an additive that has proven itself in minimizing herd problems should not be eliminated from the ration.

However, if an additive is being fed and the benefits are not obvious, maybe it’s time to discontinue using that product.


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