Managing feed costs without compromising production

What is hay worth to you?


High hay prices have left many producers asking, “How can I keep feed costs down without losing milk production?” This has contributed to a growing interest in alternative feeds, such as byproducts, beet pulp, and cottonseed, to name a few. Dr. Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois, shed some light on this time-worthy topic in the January issue of Dairy Today.

Hutjens proposed two ways to help producers determine the break-even price, or “worth,” of hay in their rations:

  1. Limit high-quality hay to 5 lbs. of dry matter to keep feed costs down while promoting feed intake and rumen function. Calculate the milk production gained by adding 5 lbs. of hay (on an as-fed basis) to determine your return. 
  2. Utilize a computer program such as The Ohio State University’s Sesame to calculate the break-even price for hay versus other feedstuffs. 

Hutjens’ strategies for incorporating alternative feeds:

  1. Feed lower-quality forages to older heifers and far-off dry cows.
  2. Limit the amount of low-quality forages to less than 5 lbs. of dry matter if fed to milking cows.
  3. Dilute lower-quality feed with corn silage, byproduct feeds, and/or higher legume-grass forages.
  4. Remember that alternative feeds do not replace hay – they all have limitations. For example, NDF byproduct feeds can be used to extend forages. However, because they provide chemical instead of physical fiber, these byproducts will not function as forages.

The Bottom Line: Alternative feeds can be a viable way to supplement hay and help control feed costs. This being said, alternative feeds are not hay replacements. Before selecting alternatives, producers should do their homework. As Hutjens stated, “High-producing cows can convert expensive feeds into a profit. Do not shortchange your cows’ nutrition!”

Source: “Feed Alternatives for 2012” article by Mike Hutjens, Dairy Today Contributor. Posted January 10, 2012. Retrieved from on April 4, 2012.


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