Keep Dairy Cows on Full Rations

Not making money in the short-term will have long-term benefits.

Published on: Apr 14, 2011

The price of all commodities has gone up dramatically. It means it costs a lot more to feed an animal, and livestock producers are trying to deal with those realities for the second time in three years. The last time around was in 2008. University of Illinois Animal Scientist Mike Hutjens says some in the dairy sector did not weather that year well because they took their cows off feed.

"The bottom line our dairy producers have to realize, you can't cheat the bacteria," Hutjens said. "They don't read the farm magazines knowing the price of corn went up to $7.60, they just know we need certain carbon structures here to produce, and we never want to slow them down because they aren't in the union. As a result they produce 80% of my energy and 60% of my amino acids, so as a result I've got to make sure those rumen microbes are maxed out even if the price of corn appears to be high."

Hutjens says a program a friend put together that compares different feeds shows that corn is underpriced for the dairy industry. He says that even $8 corn is a better buy rather than looking at alternative feedstuffs such as corn silage and distillers grains."

Sesame is a software program from Ohio State University. It is a $10 download and can be found at SesameSoft.com. It allows the user to compare the price of 30 typical feedstuffs used in the Midwest for dairy rations.

"It looks at such things as energy and protein forms and fiber sources and comes up with a commonality, which says corn is worth $8.50 a bushel, that's what it's worth, and current price is $7.50, it is still considered a good buy," Hutjens said. "Although many of my livestock producers would roll their eyes and say you've got to be kidding me."

The price of feed looks like it will remain very high through the summer months. The price of milk, on the other hand, is projected to fall through the end of the calendar year. Hutjens says a dairy cannot afford to take cows off feed because it takes too long to bring them back into full production. He suggests using Sesame to find the breakeven price at full feed, and that it will be worth not making money in the short run in order to just come out on the other end of this financial crunch.