Management practices and feed costs in Minnesota dairy farms
It was about time for another survey of randomly selected dairy farms in Minnesota. Random sampling is a more accurate technique we can use to describe practices most commonly adopted in our state as this type of sampling will better represent the true population of farms. We also wanted to learn about milk production, feed costs and feed costs per hundredweight as a measure of milk production economic efficiency.
My graduate student, Lee Kloeckner, visited 82 farms in 2015 to collect on-farm observations and also summarized a year of cow records from each farm. Herds ranging in size from 150 to 2100 cows were included in the study. In addition, we performed a comparison of various management practices between two herd sizes: 150 to 400 cows and greater than 400 cows. What are some key things we learned?
- Milk production per cow was 80.9 pounds per day for herds less than 400 cows (referred herein as ‘smaller’) and 88.2 pounds per day for herds greater than 400 cows (referred to as ‘larger’). Components were similar between the two herd sizes and averaged 3.77% milk fat and 3.1% milk protein. Somatic cell score was also similar between herd sizes and averaged 2.46.
- Feed cost averaged $5.92 per cow per day (range of $3.79 to $7.70) and $7.18 per hundredweight of energy-corrected milk (range of $5.41 to $9.34).
- Most farms fed once a day (89.6% of farms); 31.3% of farms fed only one ration to lactating cows and only 1.5% of farms fed six different rations; 53.7% of farms fed two lactating rations to dry cows and 63.9% of farms used anionic salts.
- Silage specific hybrids were used by 65.7% of farms; 75.4% of farms used a kernel processor and 24.6% of farms used shredlage; 28.4% of farms pre-processed alfalfa hay; forage was 52%, corn silage was 30.1%, and legume forage was 21% of ration dry matter; 69% of larger farms and 46% of smaller farms used a defacer.
- Most commonly used storage structure for forages were piles and bunkers. A greater percentage of smaller farms used Ag bags (29.7%) than larger farms (8.9%), and a greater percentage of larger farms (88.9%) had a paved base for storage of corn silage than smaller farms (67.6%). Only 2.4% of farms used upright silos.
- Most farms (86.7%) used a vertical TMR mixer.
- Eighty percent of smaller farms vs. 42.9% of larger farms housed close-up dry cows in bedded packs; 37.1% of larger farms vs. 5% of smaller farms housed them in 2-row freestall pens.
- Majority of high production groups were housed in freestall pens (93.3% for larger farms, 89.2% for smaller farms); 8.1% of smaller farms housed the high production group in bedded packs vs. 0% for larger farms. Stall base was deep beds for 72.7% of larger farms and 58.8% of smaller farms; sand was used in 56.8% of larger farms and 52.9% of smaller farms whereas recycled manure solids was used in 25% of larger farms and 8.8% of smaller farms. About 27% of farms had cow brushes in the high production pen. There were more cross-alleys (3.0) and fewer dead ends (6.7%) in larger farms than in smaller farms (2.4 and 18.9%, respectively). Headlocks were the most common type of feed barrier (61.2% of farms).
- Majority of farms (63.7%) milked 3 times a day compared to 2 times a day (31.3%). Bovine somatotropin was used by 76% of larger herds and 43% of smaller herds. Fewer farms separated close-up dry cows (17.9%) and post-fresh cows (11.3%) by lactation than high production group cows (80.6%), but 77.6% of farms had a separate pen for post-fresh cows. We observed that 41.8% of farms had inadequate heat abatement.
Preliminary analysis of management factors associated with milk production showed that production of energy-corrected milk per cow was influenced by milking frequency, use of bST, type of stall base/bedding, stocking density (cows/freestall), TMR particle size, and type of TMR mixer. Feed cost per hundredweight of energy-corrected milk was associated with corn silage hybrid type, hoof trimming schedule, stocking density, type of stall base/bedding, and brisket board height. There was a lot of variability among farms on feed cost per cwt (Figure 1). We will conduct additional analysis to better describe what top dairy farms are doing to improve cow productivity and feed cost efficiency. Stay tuned!