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Sharpen Your Feed Efficiency

Boosting feed efficiency is best cure for high costs.

By Vicky Carson

With sky-high concentrate prices, it’s tempting to switch to cheaper by-product feeds for lactating cow diets. But I strongly urge: "Whoa!"

Rather than contracting for trailer loads of bakery by-product and distillers grain, look first and intensely at feed efficiency. It's a much more effective way to improve income than adding lower-cost and lower nutrient quality ingredients to the diet.

Feeding more pounds of cheaper concentrates and losing pounds of milk, milk fat and milk protein won't improve your bottom line. You already knew that. So let's look a little closer at how to bring down costs.

For every 0.1% increase in feed efficiency, you can earn up to an extra 22 cents income per cow per day. That's especially true for Jerseys.

Simply put, feed efficiency is the milk produced per pound of dietary dry matter intake consumed. To make that calculation reflect the increased value and nutrient needs for milk fat and milk components, milk yield must be corrected for solids.

Solids-corrected milk accounts for differences in milk fat and milk protein, and allow producers with more than one breed to compare cows. The formula is: SCM = [(0.323 times pounds of milk) + 12.82 times pounds of fat) + (7.13 times pounds of true protein)].

So, for example, a group of Jersey cows producing 60 pounds of milk with 4.5% fat and 3.7% protein is equivalent to 69.2 pounds of 3.5% SCM milk.

To accurately calculate feed efficiency, refusals or leftovers also need to be accounted for. Most feeders know how much feed is delivered and how much is shoveled out of the feed bunks

Here's the formula for calculating feed dry matter intake: [(total feed delivered minus refusals) divided by number of cows per group] times the dry matter percent of the diet.

Okay, now you have SCM and dry matter intake. Feed efficiency is the pounds of SCM divided by dry matter intake.

Values should range from 1.0 to 2.0 with 1.5 to 1.7 as a target. Increasing feed efficiency just from 1.4 to 1.5 will increase income.

Other feed efficiency boosters

Many variables affect that value – milk output and milk component yields, days in milk, cow comfort, ventilation, grouping and forage quality. No surprises there, right? Anything that influences intake and production can influence feed efficiency.

* For instance, cows in early second lactation and mature cows are the most efficient. So, it may make sense to under-stock early lactation groups or give cows in early lactation the most comfortable stalls in the barn.

* Allocating higher digestibility forages to fresh and early lactation cows can also improve feed efficiency – and your bottom line.

* Getting cows bred back earlier also makes sense. That way, they spend more of their productive lives in the earliest parts of lactation.

* Improving forage quality by harvesting crops earlier and storing and sealing forages correctly can improve feed efficiency and reduce spoilage losses.

* Improving forage neutral detergent fiber digestibility just by 1% increases dry matter intake by 0.33 pounds per day and milk yield by 0.50 pounds. More milk per pound of intake boosts feed efficiency and your bottom line.

* Feeding higher NDF digestibility forages also improves rumen fermentation, resulting in more microbial protein and more essential amino acids for productive purposes. Microbial protein is the best and cheapest source of dietary amino acids.

* Boosting forage content with high NDF digestibility forages cuts feed costs without compromising milk and milk component yields – as long as physically effective NDF, starch and ruminally degradable protein needs of the rumen microbes are met.

* Feed additives that are cost effective include Rumensin, Fermenten and rumen-protected amino acids. Rumensin reduces synthesis of methane and energy waste in the rumen. Fermenten provides rumen-soluble nitrogen and carbohydrates for microbes and increases microbial yield.

Rumen-protected lysine and methionine reduce the need for ruminally undegraded protein such as bloodmeal and heat-treated soybean meal. And they do it without compromising milk protein synthesis. Reducing RUP in the diet makes more room for forage.

Feed sales people should easily be able to help you track feed efficiency and make simple, low cost suggestions to increase pounds of milk per pound of dry matter intake. That's what you're paying them for, right?

Carson and husband Steve partner in Harkdale Farms of Newbury, Vt. She’s also a professor at Vermont Technical College.

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