Farm Horizons, April 2013

Tips to increase dairy profits

By Starrla Cray

When it comes to boosting dairy profits – without expanding – Tom Bailey of Elanco Animal Health puts the squeeze on “marginal milk.”

“It’s the most profitable milk you can make,” Bailey said at the Carver County/University of Minnesota dairy expo Feb. 18.

Defined as “the additional amount of milk produced above the amount required to cover the total maintenance cost of the cow,” marginal milk is something farmers like to have in abundance.

To illustrate this concept, Bailey gave the example of a cow that produces 58 pounds of milk per day. At a milk price of $18 per hundredweight, and a daily feed cost of $6.36, this would result in a profit of $4.08.

If, instead, the cow produced 68 pounds (an additional 10 pounds per day), the profit would increase to $5.36, even with added feed costs. This means that for the duration of a 305-day lactation, additional income per cow would total $390.

Clean, dry, and comfortable

Bailey provided several possibilities to help achieve a higher production rate.

“Milk is the absence of stress,” he said.

Making stalls more comfortable and spacious is one way to decrease stress, reduce feet/leg problems, and keep cows cleaner.

“Most cows lie down within three minutes from the time they walk into a free stall,” Bailey said. “If they’re perching in stalls, and not lying down in three minutes, cow comfort may be a challenge.”

To determine if stalls have enough cushion, Bailey said farmers should ask themselves, “Would you drop to your knees in the stall?”

Temperature is also key to a cow’s comfort. Bailey encouraged farmers to make sure their barn fans are positioned low enough to cool cows effectively. Soaker lines can also keep cows’ body temperatures under control in the summertime.

“Sixty-eight degrees is when we typically say cows are under heat stress,” Bailey said, adding that the threshold is even lower for cows producing more than 70 pounds of milk per day.

During hot weather, proper hydration is especially important.

“Water is the most essential nutrient you can give to cows,” Bailey said. “In 100 pounds of milk, 87 pounds is water.”

Therefore, when a cow gives 100 pounds of milk, she needs a large amount of water, not only for production, but also to maintain herself. Clean, fresh water should be readily available immediately after milking, Bailey noted. “They’re losing a lot of fluid, and it needs to be replaced.”

Regulating the amount of light a cow receives can also impact production, according to Bailey. For lactating cows, 16 to 18 hours of continuous daylight is ideal, mimicking the summer solstice.

When making changes to increase production, Bailey tells farmers to keep these three ingredients in mind for the cows: “clean, dry, and comfortable.”

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