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Feeding challenges in 2007

Jim Paulson, Extension Educator-Dairy

Published in Dairy Star February 10, 2007

My name is Jim Paulson, the newest member of the Extension Dairy team with the University of Minnesota. My office is located at the Extension Regional Center in Hutchinson, but my Extension dairy education responsibilities are statewide. Most recently, I was employed by Land O’Lakes as a Dairy Specialist in SE Minnesota. I have been involved with the dairy industry for most of my life either as a consultant, in education or as a dairy producer. I still own dairy animals and am also involved with the Holstein Association. I look forward to working with dairy producers and others in the dairy industry in a greater capacity in my new position in the months and years to come.
This year has all the makings of being an interesting year in the dairy business. While some strengthening in the price of milk is likely to occur, those gains could easily be negated through higher out of pocket feed costs. This will be the challenge in 2007 for many and the question is, “how will we meet this challenge?”

The higher price for feed is being fueled by the rising price of corn. Since many producers grow their own corn, the out of pocket feed costs will be driven by rising protein costs. As the upper Midwest plans for more acres of corn, the price of soybeans rises to compete for acreage, which, in turn, drives alternative protein prices higher as well.

We know lactating cows need energy, protein and fiber to make milk. Some of the energy comes from starch. The starch can come from grain, commodities or forage. Depending on their production level, cows need a certain amount of protein. This can come from protein blends, commodities and/or forages. What will be the lowest cost ingredient? Most likely, it is your home grown forages. Since forages make up 40-60% of the diets, we need to make the best use of the forages. To do that, plan now for next year’s forage needs.

To develop a good forage plan, first determine where you are at. 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 other forages? It would be better to make adjustments now than to have to make major changes later.

If changes are needed, what should they be? Prioritize by keeping high quality forages for the lactating cows and youngest heifers. It is important that changes are not made, now or later, that decrease milk production. Lower quality forages are efficiently utilized by older heifers and dry cows.

Will corn get too expensive to feed to the milking cows? Probably not, but we should consider whether there are alternatives that may allow us to feed less. The accompanying Table lists the crude protein, starch, fat, and neutral detergent fiber content of various feeds. Good quality corn silage is an excellent source of starch as well as providing some fiber. Perhaps you may want to harvest more in 2007. High fiber by-products contribute energy from digestible fiber, which is evident with higher NDF levels but lower starch levels. Corn gluten feed has more starch than corn distillers. 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 of these would be considered as effective fiber in a ration. High quality alfalfa is an excellent source of protein and fiber for dairy cows. It has a relatively high carbohydrate level but is low in starch.

Will purchased protein become too expensive to feed to lactating cows? Not for early lactating and high producing cows. Again, you do not want to compromise production. Research shows that every additional pound of peak milk is worth an extra 200 lbs for the lactation. In summary, the best way to help control feed costs in 2007 is to concentrate on putting up the best forages that you can. You save money and, at the same time, your cows will produce more milk.

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