The author is newsletter editor for the Northeast Dairy Producers Association. This article appeared in the September issue of the NEDPA newsletter and is published here with permission
“Increasing components is the only game in town anymore to increase profitability,” explained Bruce Dehm, dairy economist and owner of Dehm Associates in Geneseo, N.Y. Dehm was part of a Dairy Profit Seminar panel hosted by NEDPA on August 10 at Empire Farms Days. The seminar was titled “Is Your Farm a Member of the 7 Pound Club?”
Dehm defended his statement pointing out that, considering the factors that currently impact milk income, PPD is fixed, incentives are being reduced or eliminated, and just producing more milk comes with increased costs of production and hauling costs. Increasing components is currently the most efficient opportunity to increase profitability. (See table “Why Not Just Make More Milk Per Cow?” here).
Three farms hovering at the level of 7 pounds of combined milk fat and true protein per day per cow were represented on the panel. NEDPA member Matt Hanehan of Hanehan Family Dairy, Mt. Upton, NY, Jerry Hull of Thornapple Farm, Leicester, and Frank Albano of Albano Farms, Stamford were on hand to share their secrets to joining the “7 Pound Club”.
Turns out, there are no secrets, no silver bullets and no single answer. One farm fed BMR corn silage, another only conventional corn silage, and the third fed both. One farm fed grass haylage, another strictly alfalfa. One farm prioritized components in the breeding program, the others paid no attention to it as a criterion in sire selection. One herd is 55 percent first calf heifers, another is a mature herd averaging over 2.7 lactations per cow. In fact, there were as many differences in the three farms taking part in the panel as there were similarities.
Consistency is Key
“We have a great team at our dairy. We constantly remind ourselves that we are producing a food product for the consumer. We strive for quality and consistency while giving the cattle the best care possible. We have a culture of never accepting ‘good enough’, and instead striving for one of ‘constant improvement.’,” Matt explained.
Hanehan believes genetics deserves some credit for their high components and long-lasting cows. Selection criteria for service sires includes +100 CFP, along with emphasis on feet and legs, udder, SCS and health traits. Hanehan Family Dairy maintains a component efficiency (pounds of feed intake/pounds of Fat + Protein) between 10.5 to 11.1.
“Go to the barn every day and pay attention to every detail,” is what Jerry Hull of Thornapple Farm maintains is the key to high components for his family’s 750- cow herd. “Milk weights, clean stalls, clean calving area, feed pushed up, fans working – every day. Don’t overlook anything.”
Employees have to be part of the team, Hull stressed. They have to understand the expectations and feel appreciated. “If they aren’t treated right how do you think they are going to treat your cows?”
A high forage diet is necessary to achieve high components and healthy cows, Hull believes. As part of providing high quality forage, Hull pays special attention to forage digestibility. They feed BMR corn, high digestibility hybrids, pay attention to chop length and target a kernel processing score over 70. Their haylage is straight alfalfa, cut on time and stored in a well-packed bunk at 40% dry matter. Hull refuses to add straw to his dairy ration to increase effective fiber. Instead, he took every other knife out of his chopper to boost the effective fiber of haylage.
“Our philosophy is to feed the cow to be healthy and take the milk we get,” Hull concluded.
A Forage Plan
A high quality, 60 percent forage diet is served at Albano Farms, who are currently completing the construction of a 252-stall free stall barn and 16-unit swing parlor to replace their tie stall barn and expand the herd. Frank Albano explained that forage planning begins in January with the analysis and creation of a forage needs inventory. This dictates their cropping schedule and gives them a sense of direction in the spring.
They harvest both BMR and conventional corn silage. Storage in ag bags offers the opportunity to switch between the two types, while maintaining quality. They don’t have soils conducive to growing alfalfa so their haylage is grass based, with optimum harvest timing emphasized for maximum quality.
Albanos believe that dry cows are their most important group. They point to the construction of a transition barn with freshening pens as the most important and impactful change they have made.
“We depend on consultants in all aspects of our operation,” Albano said, encouraging dairy managers to ask questions and seek advice. “There’s no way to know and keep up with everything.”
“Successful farms don’t always do things the same way,” Jay Giesy, another panelist and dairy specialist for Cargill summed up the three farms’ presentations. However, he suggested that the thing they have in common is paying attention to details to do everything well.
“Achieving 7 pounds [CFP] is like being valedictorian or salutatorian of the class. You can’t ace nutrition and get C’s and B’s in cow comfort, herd health, milk procedures, etc. All these ‘grades’ also impact component efficiency.”
Giesy pointed out that herds achieving a level of 7 pounds fat and protein were an elite group, as this component yield level requires both high component percentages and high milk yields (see graph “7 Pounds Fat & Protein).
Giesy reviewed common themes among these elite herds:
- High quality forages
-Field and crop management, harvest timing, digestibility
-Forage carryover – peak starch digestibility comes 9 months after harvest. Giesy recommended waiting at least until January to feed silages
- Precision feeding – CONSISTENCY in mixing, delivering times and pushup
- Quality and quantity of ration
- Minimal time away from feed or waiting for feed – 24-hour access to feed
- Achieving 5 – 7% cull rate at 60 DIM – suggesting low metabolic disorders
- Desire to do better for the cows and willingness to try new things
- Detail oriented owners, managers and employees
NEDPA hosted this panel at Empire Farm Days on Aug. 9 and appreciated the opportunity to join Cornell PRO-DAIRY and DairyBusiness & Holstein World magazine at the Dairy Profit Center.
An informative PDF copy of a slide show, "7 Pounds of Components From a Nutrition Angle", is available for download here.