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Managing Corn in Dairy Rations

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
February 26, 2014         
Source:  Dan Martens, Extension Educator
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Managing Corn in Dairy Rations
By Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension

FOLEY, Minn. (02/20/14) — Regional Extension Dairy Educator Jim Paulson talked at the Central MN Forage Workshop in Royalton about “Reducing Corn in Dairy Ration.” Some key points from Jim’s discussion include:

Reducing corn in rations became a hot topic over recent as the corn price climbed. Now corn prices have declined significantly. It might be that some dairy farmers and nutrition advisors learned some lessons about corn and alternatives to corn that might be worth keeping in mind as corn prices and other prices will likely continue to follow cycles.

Thinking about what to do with any one ingredient in a ration depends heavily on what all the other components are. That’s true for meeting actual nutrient needs, and for maintaining proper rumen fiber and function for ruminants like a dairy cow. The key is to balance a ration for what the cow needs.

Even with $7 corn on some farms, there were situations where you might need corn in a ration in a way that you would gain more than a dollar’s worth of milk by adding a dollar’s worth of corn. Now with corn cheaper again, there might be situations where even though corn is cheap, if you have enough energy and starch in the ration already, you might do more harm than good by pushing more corn.

The task again is to balance the ration to meet the nutritional need of the cows…and to consider return over feed cost. The key is NOT really so much to think about REDUCING feed COST … but to IMPROVE RETURN OVER FEED COST. That means spending a dollar where you’re likely to get more than a dollar back. There can be situations where cash and credit is tight, and there are real constraints on what can be spent on feed.

Jim also pointed out that the new farm bill, as a safety net for dairy producers in putting primary emphasis on a “margin insurance” type process that will be based on a calculated margin between the value of milk and the cost of standard major feed ingredients. Jim suggested it will be helpful in making better decisions about using this program, to have a good handle on your own return over feed cost numbers. If you don’t have a good handle on this for your farm, you might gain by doing some homework on those numbers between now and fall when the dairy part of the farm bill is likely to be launched.

Jim also made the point that making effective and efficient use of feed resources also counts because milk prices will continue to run high and low cycles. There’s some hope that the farm bill dairy provisions will help dairy farmers ride some of the waves, but it will always count to manage feed resources as effectively as you can.

Another point is that having the right quality and consistent quality of forages in the ration, is a real key to making the best use of other feed ingredients. Good forages are the foundation of the ration. When corn was high priced, we talked about forage production practices that provided forages with higher digestible NDF or Neutral Detergent Fiber. Forage with good digestibility provided more energy from the forage part of the ration and you could save on some of the corn you needed in the ration. Remember that corn silage is a major source of corn in the ration. 

Jim also talked about looking at our crop production program in terms of feed nutrients produced per acre…and maybe the cost of production here per pound of nutrients provide in rations – rather than just thinking about tons per acre. Yield and quality both count.

WEATHER OUTLOOK & SAFETY: You’re probably reading or hearing about the National Weather Service issuing a new 90 Day Outlook during the past week. Extension climate and weather specialist Mark Seeley said at a meeting last week that the forecast for March will likely be cooler than normal and possibly more precipitation. It’s probably difficult to warm up with this much snow around.

Please make SAFETY a priority with winter driving and other work and activities. We can expect frosty roads, fog, and blowing snow sticking to roads as winter tries to turn into spring along the way. How does that go? We’re Minnesotans; we can do this… maybe with a little help and encouragement from a neighbor once in a while.


Daniel Martens
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(320) 968-5077
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