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January 2013
Volume 15, Issue 1


The Cost of Nutrients and Comparison of Feedstuffs Prices, Dr. Normand St-Pierre, Extension Dairy Management Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University
The Importance of Knowing Dry Matter Concentration When Buying (or Selling) Feeds, Dr. Bill Weiss, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University
Compost Bedded Pack Dairy Barns in Ohio, Dr. Lingying Zhao, Ms. Amanda Doruidas, and Ms. Mary Wicks, Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University

Calendar of Events

The Costs of Nutrients and Comparison of Feedstuffs Prices (top of page) pdf file
Dr. Normand St-Pierre, Extension Dairy Management Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

Sometimes I wonder if I live on the same planet as some dairy economists.  I just read an article where an eminent dairy economist is confident of a dairy rebound ahead.  Let’s see: $18.66 Class III prices last December, February’s futures trading at $17.07 today, and March futures at $17.02.  On the feed side, corn prices have indeed rebounded from lows under $7/bushel with March futures at $7.42/bushel today.  I suppose that some prices are indeed rebounding, but to me they seem to be rebounding in the wrong direction…  However, regardless of the price outlook, feeding balanced diets based on economically priced feed ingredients can help maintaining positive margins or reducing financial losses.  The idea is to maximize the use of underpriced feeds and to minimize the use of overpriced ones.

Nutrient Prices

As usual in this column, I used the software SESAME™ that we developed at Ohio State to price the important nutrients in dairy rations to estimate break-even prices of all major commodities traded in Ohio, and to identify feedstuffs that currently are significantly underpriced as of January 14, 2013.  Price estimates of net energy lactation (NEL, $/Mcal), metabolizable protein (MP, $/lb – MP is the sum of the digestible microbial protein and digestible rumen-undegradable protein of a feed), non-effective NDF (ne-NDF, $/lb), and effective NDF (e-NDF, $/lb) are reported in Table 1. Compared to its historical 6-year average of about 10¢/Mcal, NEL is still a highly priced nutrient  For MP, its current price (41.2¢/lb) is also greater than its 6-year average (28¢/lb).  Thus, we are currently in a period of very high dietary energy and protein prices.  The cost of ne-NDF is currently discounted by the markets (i.e., feeds with a significant content of non effective NDF are price discounted), but the discount of 5.6¢/lb is below its 6-year average (-9¢/lb).  Meanwhile, unit costs of e-NDF are historically high, being priced at about 4.7¢/lb compared to the 6-year average (3.3¢/lb).  So, dietary fiber, whether effective or not is currently highly priced from a historical standpoint.  Homegrown forages are generally the best sources of effective NDF.  The drought has reduced considerably the hay supply.  Consequently, hay prices are currently very high - $292/ton for Ohio alfalfa hay according to USDA.

Table 1.  Prices of dairy nutrients for Ohio dairy farms, mid-January 2013.
Figure 1

Economic Value of Feeds

Results of the Sesame analysis for central Ohio in mid January are presented in Table 2. Detailed results for all 27 feed commodities are reported.  The lower and upper limits mark the 75% confidence range for the predicted (break-even) prices.  Feeds in the “Appraisal Set” were deemed outliers (completely out of price).  One must remember that Sesame compares all commodities at one point in time, mid January in this case.  Thus, the results do not imply that the bargain feeds are cheap on a historical basis.

Table 2.  Actual, breakeven (predicted) and 75% confidence limits of 27 feed commodities used on
Ohio dairy farms, mid-January 2013.
Figure 2


Table 3. Partitioning of feedstuffs, Ohio, mid-January 2013.


At Breakeven


Bakery byproducts
Brewers grains, wet
Corn, ground, shelled
Corn silage
Distillers dried grains
Gluten feed
Meat meal
Soybean meal – expeller
48% soybean meal
Wheat middlings

41% Cottonseed meal
Whole cottonseed
Feather meal
Soybean hulls
Wheat bran

Alfalfa hay – 40 NDF
Canola meal
Blood meal
Beet pulp
Citrus pulp
Fish meal
Gluten meal
44% soybean meal
Roasted soybeans

For convenience, Table 3 summarizes the economic classification of feeds according to their outcome in the Sesame analysis.

As usual, I must remind the readers that these results do not mean that you can formulate a balanced diet using only feeds in the “bargains” column.  Feeds in the “bargains” column offer savings opportunity and their usage should be maximized within the limits of a properly balanced diet.  In addition, prices within a commodity type can vary considerably because of quality differences as well as non-nutritional value added by some suppliers in the form of nutritional services, blending, terms of credit, etc.  Also, there are reasons that a feed might be a very good fit in your feeding program while not appearing in the “bargains” column. 

The Importance of Knowing Dry Matter Concentration When Buying (or Selling) Feeds (top of page) pdf file
Dr. Bill Weiss, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, The Ohio State University

If your cows are stranded in the middle of a desert, water may indeed be priceless; however, in most of the U.S., the water contained in feed has essentially no economic value, even though water is the most critical nutrient for milk production.  We formulate diets on a dry matter (DM) basis because we assume cows can consume all the drinking water they need; we do not have to feed it.  The economic value of feeds is derived from the amount of energy, protein, fiber, etc. in the feed.  When pricing feeds, water is considered a diluent of nutrients and the higher the moisture concentration, the less you should pay for a particular feed on an as-fed basis.   Two silages with identical nutrient composition on a DM basis have different dollar values on an as-fed basis if their DM concentrations differ.  When buying or selling feeds, the DM concentration must be considered when deriving a price.  For most concentrates, the DM does not vary greatly and can be ignored when pricing.  For wet concentrates, such as wet brewers and wet distillers, DM should be considered when pricing.  The DM concentration of hay can be variable, but generally, if hay is ‘wet’ it should not be purchased since it likely will spoil and have no economic value.  If hay is baled at DM concentrations that results in a stable product, the variation in DM is not enough to greatly affect the price.  Silage and balage vary greatly in DM concentration (ranges exceeding 30 percentage units of DM are not uncommon) and this variation will affect the economic value of the feed substantially. 

To price wet feeds follow these steps:

  1. The buyer and seller have to agree on a price on a 100% DM basis.  This can be done using a program such as SESAME (see accompanying article on Nutrient Costs) or it can be done by using market prices of similar feeds.  If you are considering buying wet distillers grains, you could use dried distiller grain prices.  If you are buying haycrop silage or balage, you could use hay prices (make sure nutrient composition is similar).

  2. If using similar dry feeds to price the wet feed, convert market price of similar feeds to 100% DM basis: When using a dry concentrate: DM price = As-fed price/0.9; When using hay: DM price = As-fed price/0.85.
  3. Obtain an accurate value for the DM concentration of the feed of interest (see below).
  4. Convert the DM price to as-fed price for the feed of interest: DM price X (DM %/100) = As-fed price.


Dried distillers grains sell for $240/ton and wet distillers is 27% DM.

DM price/ton of dried distillers = 240/0.9 = $267/ton of DM.
Comparative price of wet distillers: 267 x 0.27 = $72/ton of as-fed wet distillers grains (this is the maximum value).

Alfalfa hay sells for $340/ton and a truckload of comparable balage has an average DM of 52%.

DM price/ton of hay = 340/0.85 = $400/ton of DM.
Comparative price for balage = 400 x 0.52 = $208/ton of as-fed balage (this is the maximum value).

            In many cases, additional price discounts have to be applied to wet feed.  Wet feeds are generally less stable than dry feed and undergo greater shrink or storage losses.  If you are buying wet feed and will be storing it, then you should assume that you will lose about 10% of the feed to shrink and that should be considered in the price. 

Moisture does not only dilute nutrients, it also is a good indicator of forage stability and overall quality.  Silage or balage that is too wet (< 28% DM) may undergo a clostridial fermentation and have substantially less value than a well fermented silage.  Silage or balage that was stored too dry (> 40% for a bunker silo and > 60% for balage) can suffer heat damage, which reduces energy and protein digestibility and it often becomes moldy. Moldy, heat-damaged silage has little economic or nutritional value.  Corn silage that is too dry (greater than about 40% DM) has those problems plus the digestibility of the starch in the kernel is also usually reduced compared to normal corn silage.  Be cautious when buying silages that are outside the acceptable range in DM concentrations; simply accounting for dilution may not adequately value the feeds.
Measuring Dry Matter of Feeds:

Because price depends so much on DM, you must obtain enough samples to get an accurate estimate of the DM concentration of the feed.  If you a buying (or selling) chopped plants that are being put into a silo, we think you need to sample at least 4 truck (or wagon) loads (spread across the entire day) to get an accurate estimate of DM.  Take 10 or more handful samples from each load (spread across the load) and place in a bucket, thoroughly mix the material and then take a subsample (smaller than a volleyball, larger than a softball).  This process should be repeated for each load.  Ideally, the 4 load samples should be assayed for DM (either by a lab or use of an accurate on-farm method) and then the average DM would be used to price the silage.  Over compositing the sample (e.g., turning the 4 load samples into 1 sample) can increase sampling error and result in inaccurate values.

Bale to bale differences in DM can be substantial for balage.  We think you need core samples from at least 10 bales to obtain an accurate average value for DM.  The 10 core samples should be thoroughly mixed in a bucket and the entire sample sent to the lab or assayed on-farm for DM.


Compost Bedded Pack Dairy Barns in Ohio (top of page) pdf file
Dr. Lingying Zhao, Extension Dairy Veterinarian, Ms. Amanda Douridas, and Ms. Mary Wicks, Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University

Most Ohio dairy operations use liquid manure systems, which require careful management to minimize manure runoff and can have high costs associated with transport of manure that is up to 90% water.  For dairy farms to remain economically viable, production systems that improve the health of the cow, minimize manure-handling costs, and reduce potential environmental impacts are needed. If you are a dairy farmer who is investigating alternative manure management systems, a compost bedded pack dairy barn may be an option for you. The compost bedded pack dairy barn is an alternative system with solid manure handling options (Figure 1). Its potential for positive impacts on milk production and cow health, as well as the ability to handle manure as a dry material, have resulted in increased interest.

Figure 1. Compost bedded-pack dairy barns in Ohio.

The compost bedded pack dairy barns had been evaluated by the University of Minnesota (UMN) over the last several years. The Ohio State University (OSU) and the University of Kentucky have conducted preliminary research to analyze the design and management recommendations; document current practices; and evaluate milk production, animal health, indoor air quality, and manure handling of the bedded pack dairy system.

Four Ohio dairy farms using a compost bedded pack system were studied by OSU researchers to assess the barn design and collect data from the farmer on pack and manure handling practices and cow health. Farm visits were made in four seasons during 2008-2009 to monitor air quality, collect bedded pack samples, and record management practices and cow health. 

Barn Layout and Management Practices        

The four study farms generally used the layout and management recommendations developed at the University of Minnesota for compost bedded pack dairy systems. The barns were designed to provide adequate space for all cows to lie down with space available to get up as needed, to enable composting of the manure and pack, and to provide ventilation that compensates for the heat generated from the pack. All barns had a separate feed alley and resting area and a good design for natural ventilation. The sidewalls were high with plenty of openings for good air movement. Some had fans for summer cooling. All farms stirred the pack twice daily and reported adding sawdust every 10 to 14 days when the pack became moist enough to stick to the cow.  For two farms, cows were on pasture during the summer, so the pack was stirred less frequently.  All farms experienced difficulty in obtaining sawdust during the winter months due to availability and cost.  Recommended practices for feed alley scraping and complete barn clean out were generally followed.

Indoor Thermal Environment and Air Quality

In the four barns, average indoor temperature ranged from 28 to 78 oF over a year; average relative humidity ranged from 35 to 90%; and average air velocity from 0.2 to 1.8 m/s. Barn temperature varied with outdoor weather changes and was out of the cow’s comfort zone in summer. Barn relative humidity was within the cow’s comfort zone for most barns, and at most times, except for two barns, the barns had high relative humidity in the spring and fall. Air velocity in barns varied significantly with the season and between barns. Higher air velocity in warmer seasons can enhance cow cooling and water evaporation from the bedded pack.  Air velocity is an indicator of good natural ventilation and management.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the barns ranged from 400 to 700 ppm throughout the whole year, with higher CO2 concentrations in winter due to reduced side-wall openings. Ammonia concentrations (NH3) fluctuated significantly in seasons from 0 to 1.6 ppm in the barns. Hydrogen sulfide concentrations ranged from 1 to 12 ppb with lower concentrations in warm seasons because of wide opening of the side walls, and for the two farms using pasture, the lower concentrations resulted from reduced time inside. In reference of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indoor air quality standards and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indoor air quality recommendations, all the gas concentrations were well below the suggested indoor air quality thresholds (25 ppm ammonia and 10 ppm hydrogen sulfide).  This indicates that there is no air quality concern in the compost bedded pack dairy barns.

Composting of Bedded Pack

The average bedding temperatures of approximately 90 to120°F indicates composting (microbial activity) was occurring.  Higher temperatures of 140 to160°F observed in many commercial composting systems were not achieved, probably because of the shallow bedded pack depths (typical compost piles are 6 to 8 feet or more). Oxygen concentrations were at 7 to 9%, well below ambient levels (21%) and another indicator of composting.  These concentrations have been found to be adequate to allow aerobic composting with little offensive odors. The pH values of the bedded pack ranged from 7.9 to 9.6, which indicates that the composting was aerobic in nature since anaerobic activity would produce an acidic compost.  

The NPK values of the bedded pack manure at clean out were analyzed.  The nutrient concentrations on a dry basis of 1.8 to 3.3 for N, ~1 for P2O5, and 2 to 3% for K2O would be considered average to above average compared to most compost. Assuming a 2.5:1:2 fertilizer analysis and approximately 65% moisture for the pack material at clean out, each ton of compost would supply 17.5, 7, and 14 lb of N, P2O5, and K2O per wet ton, respectively. 

Cow Performance, Health, and Comfort

The farmers reported improved feet health, better milk quality, and improved milk production. The cows were consistently much cleaner in the composted bedded pack barns than cows in the traditional bedded pack barns of the past. All farmers reported satisfaction with the new system from a management perspective, as well as cow health and comfort.   

A Multi-State Workshop on the Bedded Pack Dairy Systems

A multi-state workshop educational program was held on Dec. 5th in Ohio, Dec. 12th in Tennessee, and Dec. 13th in Kentucky.  Presentations and video recordings were uploaded to http://airquality.osu.edu/workshops/index.htm. These are an excellent resource for those unable to attend the workshop but interested in more information.


Calendar of Events (top of page)

Date Program Location
February 16 Ohio Brown Swiss Breeders Annual Meeting Der Dutchman, Plain City
February 23 Ohio Ayrshire Breeders Annual Meeting Der Dutchman, Plain City
March 2 Ohio Guernsey Breeders Association Annual Meeting All Occasions, Waldo
March 8-9 Ohio Holstein Association Annual Meeting  Sidney, OH