Dairy Expert: Corn Still is Best Feed
Dairy farmers should continue to feed corn despite its high cost, says Tom Noyes, dairy specialist at the Wayne County office of Ohio State Extension.
"The increase in milk prices has overcome the grain increases," Noyes says. "For a dairy farmer, income over feed costs are better today than they were last year."
Research conducted in New Zealand, Pennsylvania and Ohio showed that feeding corn increases milk production, especially in cows capable of high output. An increase of 1 to 3 pounds of milk for each pound of grain fed is normal, Noyes says.
Milk prices are around $15 per 100 pounds, about $1.30 higher than last year and forecasted to rise further. Corn at $5 per bushel mixed with soybean meal will cost 10 to 11 cents per pound. But if that pound of grain causes a 1 to 3 pound milk increase worth 15 to 45 cents, it's cost effective to feed grain, Noyes says.
Forage from a management intensive grazing system supplemented with grain is efficient and productive feed. But high-protein pasture by itself does not provide enough energy to sustain high milk production, Noyes says. In fact, high levels of protein in a cow's stomach will degrade into excess ammonia. The energy it takes to remove extra ammonia may decrease milk output by 6 or 7 pounds per day if grain is not also fed.
"You have to get grain into a cow to fully use all the protein it's getting from grass," Noyes says.
A cow that does not get enough energy and is losing weight will not reproduce well. The reproduction system will virtually shut down in a cow that is losing weight, Noyes says.
"If you are a seasonal dairy and depend on getting cows bred on time, you had better think again about cutting out grain," he says.
Dairy farmers should monitor their cows' milk production and body condition to determine the amount of grain to feed, Noyes says. Grain costs can be lowered by reducing levels fed to cows nearing the end of lactation and dry cows in good condition. But producers shouldn't stop feeding grain entirely.
"A short-term savings in cutting out grain may cause long-term expenses if a cow's health, reproductive efficiency, body condition and milk production are not optimized," Noyes says.