Feed continues to be the highest individual cost in confined dairy production systems. According to the USDA Economic Research Service (2016), during 2015 feed costs represented 56 percent of the total cost of producing milk in the U.S., progressively increasing during the last decade. With feed comprising the largest operating expense, nutrition and feeding management practices are the key profit drivers for most dairies.
Keys to reduce production costs on dairy farms
To enhance profitability, it is very important to reduce feed costs without negatively affecting cow production, health or reproduction. One of the areas of focus for reducing feed costs is the amount of feed weigh-backs (refusals, orts) generated daily on the farm. Previous management recommendations of keeping a weigh-back of about 5 percent is no longer feasible in the current economic environment.
At current feed costs of 12.5 cents per pound of dry matter (DM), overfeeding a high-production cow 3 to 5 percent extra increases daily feed costs by 20 to 40 cents per day, or $73 to $146 per year. Part of that expense may be recovered if the weigh-backs are fed to other groups of animals (such as late lactation cows, heifers or dry cows) or sold to other beef or heifer operations; however, the value of the weigh-backs is always lower than the original TMR.
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