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High Milk Production, Low Feed Costs How They Do It

Wisconsin”s highest producing dairy farms get the most out of their cows, and they do it without high feed costs. Feed costs averaged less than $4 per hundredweight of milk on six farms with rolling herd averages exceeding 30,000 pounds of milk, according to results of a survey by University of Wisconsin-Extension specialists.

Ration costs on the six farms averaged $3.85 (ranging from $3.42 to $4.34) per hundredweight of milk in spring 1998, and $3.94 (ranging from $3.38 to $4.25) in fall 1998, according to Randy Shaver, Extension dairy nutritionist at UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. To compute costs, the researchers figured alfalfa silage at $80 per ton of dry matter, corn silage at $70 per ton DM, and corn at $2.50 per 56-pound bushel. Specific farm prices were used for other ration ingredients.

All six farms fed total mixed rations; four milked three times daily. Milk production ranged from 30,325 pounds to 32,865 pounds per cow, averaging 31,179 pounds. Fat averaged 3.6 percent and 1,108 pounds, protein averaged 3.2 percent and 993 pounds. Somatic cell counts averaged 216,000, ranging from 75,000 to 354,000.

Herd sizes ranged from 52 to 300 Holstein cows, averaging 119 cows. Five of the farms housed their milking cows in tie stalls; the sixth used freestalls.

Four farms fed a one-group TMR to milking cows, and one grouped two-year-olds and mature cows separately. The freestall herd had four groups of all-age milking cows, all treated alike. Five farms used nutritional consultants.

The farms provided milking cows with plenty of bunk space (at least 24 inches per cow) and plenty of feed access time (at least 23 hours per day). Frequency of feeding for milking cows ranged from one to three times daily.

In many cases, the number of times feed is pushed up to cows is more important than the number of feedings per day, Shaver notes. These farms pushed up feed for post-fresh and milking cows an average of 5.5 times per day, with a range of four to seven times per day. Feed refusals for post-fresh and milking cows were monitored daily. About half the farms monitored refusals for dry and pre-fresh cows.

Four farms fed alfalfa silage and corn silage to their milking cows in spring; one farm fed pea/triticale silage instead of alfalfa and one farm fed all alfalfa silage. Relative feed values for the alfalfa silage ranged from 127 to 185. All the farms fed whole cottonseed at two to six pounds per day, and soybean meal or roasted beans at 1.5 to 5 pounds per day.

Two farms fed all alfalfa silage in fall; the rest fed alfalfa silage and corn silage. RFVs for the alfalfa silage ranged from 129 to 186. The farms all fed high-moisture shell corn or dry ground shell corn. All the farms fed whole cottonseed at about three to five pounds per day.

Based on current National Research Council feeding standards, the dairies tended to overfeed protein and phosphorus, Shaver notes. Besides boosting feed costs, overfeeding these nutrients can make managing manure nutrients more difficult. (See accompanying story, OVERFEEDING PHOSPHORUS WASTES MONEY)

The farms fed a wide variety of other supplements, minerals and vitamins. A copy of the Extension specialists” paper, with tables listing complete diet compositions and other information, on the WorldWideWeb at

Shaver worked with Scott Gunderson, Manitowoc Co. UW-Extension dairy agent, and Jennifer Keuning, Kewaunee Co. UW-Extension ag agent, to survey the housing, feeding and management practices on Wisconsin”s high-producing dairy farms. As of December 1998, Wisconsin had 25 herds averaging more than 30,000 pounds of milk per cow, according to Jody Pinter of AgSource Cooperative Services in Verona. The farms in this survey were located in Barron, Fond Du Lac, Grant, Marathon, Pepin and St. Croix Counties.