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Critical feed numbers for 2012

Jim Paulson
Dairy Extension Educator
January 14, 2012

This year has all the makings of being an interesting year in the dairy business. Although there has been strength in the price of milk, we wonder if it will hold or if there will be a major downturn on the three-year cycle. What will be the price of corn and soybeans in July? The real challenge for many producers in 2012 will continue to be the out of pocket feed costs and income over feed costs. It is this margin that producers need to pay all the other costs, which continue to go up as well. The goal is to be financially sustainable in a volatile market. How will producers meet the challenge?

The higher price for feed is being fueled by the price of corn and the price of energy; specifically oil. As many producers grow their own corn, higher feed costs will be more driven by rising protein costs. As the upper Midwest plans more acres for corn, the price of soybeans rises to compete for acres, which in turn drives alternative protein prices higher as well. There has also been a 10% decrease in the alfalfa acres in the Corn Belt in 2011 due to the corn price and the challenges of putting up quality forage. We may see an additional 10 to 15% decrease in alfalfa acres in 2012.

What's your plan? If you haven't already, take inventories of your forage and grain supplies. Do you have enough haylage to make it to July 1 so you don't have to feed fresh haylage? Do you have enough corn silage to make it to December 1? How about your supplies of corn, cottonseed and/or other forages? It would be better to make adjustments now than to have to make major changes later.

Will corn get too expensive to feed to cows? Probably not, but you should consider whether there are alternatives that may allow you to feed less corn. Table 1 shows the starch content of various alternative feeds. Other commodities may be excellent feeds but their energy comes from digestible fiber and not starch; examples would be soy hulls and corn distillers. Neither would be considered as effective fiber in a ration.

Will purchased protein become too expensive to feed to lactating cows? Not for early and high producing cows. Again, you do not want to compromise production. Every additional pound of peak milk is worth 200 pounds for the lactation. The best way to save money in 2012 is also the most challenging; that is to produce the best forages that you can.

The real question comes down to how much it costs you to produce a hundred weight of milk and what you will receive for the milk. It becomes critical to know that cost. With tax time coming up, many will calculate a schedule F derived number. This may or may not be accurate. Start by computing a feed cost per cow per day and per cwt of milk produced. A spreadsheet we have developed is available on our Dairy Extension website at Look under Feed and Nutrition and click on Feed Cost Calculator to download the Excel spreadsheet.

Other numbers you may need to calculate are feed efficiency, pounds of energy corrected milk, actual dry matter intake per group, pounds of milk fat and protein produced per day, and net value of milk produced per day.

Feed Efficiency = Energy corrected milk (lb/day) / Dry matter intake (lb/day)
The standard goal is 1.5. This number varies by days in milk for groups or the whole herd.

Energy corrected milk = (12.82 x lb fat) + (7.13 x lb protein) + (0.323 x lb milk)
The goal is > 80 lb for Holsteins and > 70 lb for colored breeds.
An example for a Holstein herd would be a herd producing 77 lb of milk with 3.95% butterfat and 3.29% protein. Using the energy corrected milk formula we calculate:
ECM = (12.82 x 3.04 lb fat) + (7.13 x 2.58 lb protein) + (.323 x 77) = 81.95 lb

At 52 lb of dry matter intake, feed efficiency = 81.95 / 52 = 1.57 lb milk per lb of dry matter.

Feed cost per cwt of milk = Feed cost per cow per day / milk production per cow per day. The goal is < $9.00.

Table 1. Alternative energy sources.


(% DM)

(% DM)

Digestible NDF
(% NDF)

Corn silage




Corn grain




Wheat midds




Corn gluten feed




Dry distillers grains




Brewers grains




Cereal byproduct




Beet pulp




Citrus pulp












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