The balance between feed costs, nutrition, and profit in the dairy business

Profits in the dairy industry require high levels of milk production, which requires a large amount of high-quality feed. One expert explains the balance between feed costs, nutrition and profit.

“There’s no question that cows that produce more milk need more nutrients, but there’s a lot of ways to get nutrients into diets, and feed costs can vary a couple of dollars per cow for the same production level,” William Weiss with Ohio State University’s Department of Animal Sciences said. “So, what we really need to emphasize, is to get away from the idea of thinking just about feeds, but think about nutrients.”

By switching up the type of feed, while still providing the same amount of nutrients, there is a potential to lower feed costs. There are two major nutrients dairymen should focus on.

“Protein and energy are the big ones. Protein is not just protein; it’s certain amino acids,” Weiss said. “What really matters is getting cows to eat. If you put together a diet that cows eat a lot, it can actually be a cheaper diet.”

Feeding dairy cows high-quality forage is an important factor too. Weiss says that producers should be aware of harvest timing and management, because both influence quality.

In seasons where forage qualities are lower, producers should be prepared to make up the difference through the remainder of the cow’s diet.

“With what we know now, we can feed much less forage than we have in the past. Usually, it’s less profitable, but it’s better than feeding snowballs,” he said. “If corn silage is less than optimal, you’re going to have to think of some options, by-products, etc.”

Like any management decision on the farm, keeping production goals top-of-mind is critical when it comes to profitability.

Producing large amounts of high-component milk requires a combination of proper nutrition and genetics. U.S. Registered Holsteins today produce more total pounds of milk, butterfat, and protein than any other dairy breed, and they are doing it more efficiently with each generation.