Buckeye Dairy News: Volume 13 Issue 2

  1. Feed and Nutrient Costs in Dairy Production: Where are we now?

    Dr. Normand St-Pierre, Dairy Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University

    Rain, rain, rain…  When is it ‘gonna’ stop?  As I write this column, Ohio is still getting more than its share of rain.  The Southwest is under drought, while the Eastern Cornbelt is flooding.  On an average, we are OK…  Considering that the corn carry-over is already projected to be very low at the end of this marketing year (i.e., in September), we should expect additional gyrations in the feed markets.  Although we might not like to hear this, we must remember that it is the fluctuation in market prices that create buying opportunities.  Let’s look at what these are right now in the middle of April.

    Feed Ingredients

    As usual in this column, we used the Sesame program to compare the different commodities available in Ohio based on the value of their nutrients.  The nutrients that we used were: net energy for lactation (NEL), metabolizable protein (MP), effective neutral detergent fiber (eNDF), and non-effective NDF (neNDF).  Over the years, we have found that these 4 nutrients alone explain over 98% of the difference in prices across commodities.  The prices used were for Central Ohio on a farm delivered TTL (tractor-trailer-load) basis.  Your own local prices might be different but probably not by very much.  The results obtained for all feeds in our analysis are reported in Table 1. This table summarizes the information in regards to the prices used for the analysis (i.e., the market prices), the differences between market prices and the calculated values (what we call ‘Deviation’), and a categorization of feed ingredients into 3 categories: bargains, at break-even, or over-priced.

    How can you make use of this information?  First, you should verify that the majority of the feeds that you use are either underpriced (o symbol in the class column in Table 1), or close to their break-even prices.  Your nutritionist might have to use a few over-priced feeds to balance the rations in your herd, but these should be few and they should have a nutritional justification.

    Some readers have asked me where I get my corn silage prices, or more specifically, why doesn’t the price of corn silage change from month to month.  The corn silage price that I use is calculated from the prevailing cash corn price at the time of silage harvesting.  This is when the decision is really made whether to let the corn fully mature to grain or to harvest the crop as silage.  Once the cropped is chopped and ensiled, it is be pretty hard to reverse one’s decision and get the corn kernels out of the silage to market the crop as corn grain.  Very little corn silage is traded in Ohio, so we can’t rely on good market information to price the silage.  It is important to note that all feeds are priced ‘at the mixer wagon’.  So for corn silage, the cost is not just the value of the corn standing in the field but also consists of the harvesting and storage costs, including the inevitable dry matter losses during storage.

    Table 1.  Market prices, deviations from break-even values, and categorization of feed ingredients used in dairy, central Ohio market, week of April 11, 2011.1
    Table 1

    1Deviation represents the difference between the market price and the calculated value of a feedstuff.  For example, a deviation of $28/ton for citrus pulp means that the market price is $28/ton above the value of the nutrients in citrus pulp.  The Class column categorizes ingredients as follow:  x = ingredient is significantly over-priced, o = ingredient is significantly under-priced (i.e., a bargain), and a blank entry in the Class column means that the ingredient is priced about for what it is worth.

    Price of Nutrients

    As explained numerous times before, a nice byproduct of this analysis is that the implicit prices of the economically important nutrients are estimated.  Results for the middle of April are shown in Table 2.  The cost of dietary energy, which is expressed as net energy for lactation, is currently very high, approaching a 175% increase over the six-year rolling average for this nutrient.  Making good use of the energy contained in feeds is economically very important.  Avoid things that can negatively impact feed digestibility, such as acidosis, corn grain that is too coarsely ground, or forage mean particle size too small due to long mixing time, etc.  The current cost per unit of usable protein, the metabolizable protein, and that of the two fiber components are close to their historical ranges.  So, it is the high cost of dietary energy that makes current feed costs so high.

    Table 2.  Estimated cost per unit of nutrients, central Ohio, week of April 11, 2011.
    Table 2

    Returns to Dairy Producers: the Cow-Jones Index

    Using a ‘standard’ cow producing milk at a level that approximates the national average, it is easy to calculate the cost of feeding this cow given the nutrient costs on a given month.  This ‘standard’ cow is a 1,500 lb cow producing 65 lb of milk per day at 3.6% fat and 3.0% protein.  This cow requires 31.3 Mcal/day of net energy, 4.64 lb/day of metabolizable protein, 10.2 lbs/day of effective NDF, and 3.4 lb/day of non-effective NDF.  The total daily cost to supply these nutrients during the month of March was $5.86/cow/day, or $9.02/cwt of milk.  Consequently, the average cost of the ration dry matter is estimated at 12.1 ¢/lb.  Using Federal Order component prices for March, this cow generates $12.77/day of gross milk revenues, which equates to $19.66/cwt.  The difference between the gross revenues per cwt and nutrient costs per cwt constitutes an index of milk revenues minus feeding costs.  We have named this index the Cow-Jones Index as it mimics the information of the Dow-Jones Index for the U.S. stock market.  In March, the Cow-Jones Index for Ohio stood at $10.64/cwt.  A Cow-Jones of ~ $8/cwt indicates that milk is produced at break-even, whereas a Cow-Jones exceeding $9/cwt is indicative of profitability in the dairy sector.  We have monitored this index since 1998.  Results since January 2005 are shown in Figure 1.  Although the index was much better in 2010 than in 2009, it still was not a profitable year.  The substantial increases that we have seen in milk prices since January resulted in a break-even month in February and a profitable month in March.  The cash market for cheese has dropped in the last few weeks and most dairy economists expect a softening of the Class III milk in April.  One should note that March 2011 feeding costs ($9.02/cwt of milk for the lactating cows) in addition to the other costs of production ($8.00/cwt) result in a break-even milk price of about $17.00/cwt.  It was not that long ago, in 2006 to be precise, that the break-even price was calculated at $12.76/cwt.  In those days, a $15/cwt milk price was generating net returns that averaged about $2.25/cwt.  Nowadays, the average dairy producer would be loosing about $2.00/cwt if milk prices were to drop to $15/cwt.  What a difference can less than 5 years make!

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. The Cow-Jones Index from January 2005 through March 2011.  A Cow-Jones under $8/cwt (the red zone) indicates that milk is produced at less than average break-even costs of production.  A Cow-Jones exceeding $9/cwt (the green zone) indicates that the average production is occurring under profitable conditions.  The yellow zone is one of transition.

  2. Evaluate the Total Amount of Corn-Derived Protein in Diets When Considering Using Distillers Grains

    Dr. Bill Weiss, Dairy Nutrition Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University 

    Variety is not only the spice of life, it also can increase milk yields and concentrations and yields of milk protein.  Researchers at Michigan State University (Hollmann et al., 2007, J. Dairy Sci. 90: 2022-2030) recently conducted a statistical analysis of multiple experiments evaluating corn distillers grains when fed to dairy cows.  Across the individual studies, diets contained 0 and 42% distillers grains (DM basis), milk yields ranged from about 50 to 100 lb/day and milk true protein concentration ranged from about 2.6 to 3.2%.  The forages were mainly corn silage and/or alfalfa, ground corn was the primary starch source, and soybean meal was the primary source of supplemental protein (at least in the diets without distillers grains).  The concentration of crude protein (CP) in the diets averaged 16.7% and ranged from about 14 to 20%.  Overall, control diets were fairly typical Midwestern diets. 

    Dietary CP was divided into corn CP (the protein provided by corn silage, corn grain, distillers grains, and other corn byproducts if they were fed) and non-corn CP (protein from alfalfa, soy products, wheat midds, grasses, brewers grains, etc.).  Protein from corn products is a biologically low quality protein because of its amino acid profile.  The protein is quite low in lysine and many other essential amino acids.  The Michigan State study determined that when the concentration of non-corn CP in diets decreased below 6.5 to 8.5% of dietary DM, milk protein concentration and yield of milk and milk protein decreased.  Ensuring diets contain a minimum of about 7.5% non-corn CP can be used to set maximum inclusion rates for distillers grains.

    For the following examples, corn grain was 9% CP, corn silage was 8% CP, distillers grain was 29% CP, alfalfa was 20% CP, and soybean meal was 54% CP.


    Diet 1


    Diet 2


    % of Diet DM

    CP, % of Diet DM


    % of Diet DM

    CP, % of Diet DM

    Corn silage






    Alfalfa silage






    Corn grain






    Soybean meal (SBM)












    Total CP






    Non-corn CP (alfalfa+SBM)






    Desired non-corn CP1












    1When the concentration of non-corn CP is less than 6.5 to 8.5%, yield of milk and milk protein can decrease.
    2Difference = Non-corn CP minus Desired non-corn CP.

    In diet 1 (high corn silage), you could replace up to 3.7 percentage units of non-corn CP with corn CP without likely affecting milk protein or milk yield. To maintain diet total CP at 17%, then for every 1 percentage unit of distillers grain added you need to remove 0.55 percentage units of corn grain and 0.45 units of soybean meal. The CP in that mix is approximately 24% non-corn CP and 5% corn CP.  To estimate maximum inclusion of distillers that can be used without negatively affecting milk yield or milk protein, divide the difference value in the table (3.7 for diet 1) by the “apparent” non-corn CP concentration in distillers (24%, not 29% because both corn grain and soybean meal will be removed as distillers is added).  For Diet 1, maximum distillers would be 3.7/0.24 = 15.4% of dietary DM (the amount of corn grain would be reduced by 15.4 x 0.55 = 8.5 units and SBM would be reduced by 6.9 units).

    For diet 2 (high alfalfa), maximum inclusion is 5.3/0.24 = 22% (corn grain would be reduced by 12.1 units and soybean meal would be reduced by 9.9 units).  Since the original diet only contained 5% SBM, you would have to increase the concentration of total dietary CP if you wanted to use the maximum amount of distillers grains.  Potential changes in feed costs would have to be considered before making that decision.

    The bottom line is that using a variety of feedstuffs derived from different plant sources (corn, soybean, and alfalfa) provides a blend of different protein sources which is needed to maximize milk protein yields.  Diets typically fed in Ohio already contain substantial amounts of corn protein from corn silage and corn grain, and this may limit the inclusion rate of distillers grains. 

  3. Estimating Alfalfa NDF in the Field

    Dr. Mark Sulc, Forage Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University

    First harvest of alfalfa is fast approaching. Timely cutting is critical for obtaining high quality forage. For lactating dairy cows, the optimal NDF of pure alfalfa ranges from 35 to 42%. You can quickly and easily estimate the forage NDF of alfalfa as it stands in your fields using the method outlined below. This method, developed at the University of Wisconsin, has been referred to as PEAQ, for Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality.

    This method has been thoroughly tested in Ohio and provides reasonable accuracy for timing harvest operations. It can be used during the entire growing season, not just on the first crop. Use it to monitor alfalfa NDF as the crop develops. If the goal is 40% NDF in stored alfalfa, then cutting must begin before the standing crop reaches 40% NDF, since the harvest and storage operations will raise the NDF level of the final product. In our experience, NDF concentration of well-made silage is about 2 percentage units higher than the NDF of the standing crop just before cutting. Changes in NDF during hay curing will be higher. Be sure to also adjust for the time it takes to harvest all acres. During the spring, NDF increases about 5 units each week.

    The PEAQ method is designed for pure alfalfa stands and will not accurately reflect the NDF concentration of mixed grass-alfalfa stands or weedy stands. If grass is present in the alfalfa stand, begin harvesting earlier. As a reference point, pure grass stands should be cut in late vegetative to very early boot stage for dairy quality feed. Harvest by early heading for other classes of livestock. Cornell University has developed a procedure for estimating NDF of grass-alfalfa mixtures. Their system has not been tested in Ohio, but the Cornell method for grass-alfalfa mixtures is described at http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/pdfs/pd2007october19.pdf.

    The PEAQ procedure is NOT intended to replace laboratory analyses for balancing rations once the forage is stored. It should only be used to give a rapid first estimate of quality of the standing alfalfa for assisting in harvest timing decisions of different fields. Although rainy weather can foul up the best laid plans, using PEAQ in conjunction with weather forecasts and soil conditions should help you come closer to your desired forage quality goal for alfalfa this season.

    Estimating Alfalfa NDF by Height and Maturity Stage

    Step 1:  Choose a representative 2-square-foot area in the field area to be harvested.

    Step 2:  Determine the most mature stem in the 2-square-foot sampling area using the criteria shown in the table at right.

    Step 3:  Measure the length of the tallest stem in the 2-square-foot area. Measure it from the soil surface (next to plant crown) to the tip of the stem (NOT to the tip of the highest leaf blade). Straighten the stem for an accurate measure of its length. The tallest stem may not be the most mature stem.

    Step 4:  Based on the most mature stem and length of the tallest stem, use the chart at the right to determine estimated NDF of the standing alfalfa forage.
                  Example: tallest stem is 28 inches, most mature stem has buds, but no open flowers; NDF = 38.0.

    Step 5:  Repeat steps 1 to 4 in four or five representative areas across the field. Take more samples for fields larger than 30 acres. Average all estimates to get a field average NDF.

    NOTE:  This procedure estimates alfalfa NDF content of the standing crop. It does not account for changes in quality due to wilting, harvesting, and storage. These factors may further raise NDF content by 3 to 6 units, assuming good wilting and harvesting conditions. This procedure is most accurate for good stands of pure alfalfa with healthy growth.


  4. Ohio State Participates in the 2011 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge

    Dr. Maurice Eastridge, Dairy Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University

    The 10th anniversary of the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge® (NAIDC; http://dairychallenge.org) was March 31-April 2 in Hickory, NC. The contest attracted 127 college students from 30 schools across the United States and Canada. It was hosted by North Carolina State University.

    Two pre-contest farm tours were made available to the students and their coaches: Myers Farms, Inc. and Lucky-L Jerseys. The four host dairy farms for the contest were Beams Dairy Farm, John Beam, III and John Beam, IV; Eaker Dairy Farm, Rusty and Cameron Eaker; Corey and Bridgette Lutz of Piedmont Jerseys; and Gar-Mac Farm, Inc., Gary and Sharon MacGibbon.   

    The two-day contest started with a walk-through by the team of the assigned dairy farm, analysis of farm data, and a question-answer session with owners. Then each team developed recommendations for the farm and presented them to a panel of five judges.

    The highest award of Platinum was earned by teams from California State University-Fresno, Cornell University, The Penn State University, and University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The Reserve Platinum teams were University of Alberta, University of Idaho, Michigan State University, and Washington State University.

    The next highest award is Gold and the third level is Silver. The team for Ohio State University received a gold award and consisted of Alissa Hunter, Andrew Lefeld, Stephanie Neal, and Teresa Smith. The team evaluated the Gar-Mac Farm and was coached by Dr. Maurice Eastridge. The 2012 contest will be hosted by Virginia Tech University in the Roanoke area.


    Pictured: Back Row (L to R): Teresa Smith, Stephanie Neal, and Alissa Hunter.
    Front Row: Dr. Maurice Eastridge (coach), and Andrew Lefeld.

  5. Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference: Another Successful Year

    Dr. Maurice Eastridge, Dairy Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University

    The 2011 Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference (http://tristatedairy.osu.edu) was held April 19-20 in Ft. Wayne, IN at the Grand Wayne Center. This was a monumental year for the Conference in that it was the 20th anniversary. It is hosted annually by Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue universities. Attendance was 455 this year, up about 5% from last year, and attendees consisted primarily of feed industry personnel, veterinarians, and university faculty, staff, and students. There were 55 exhibits this year, which was also an increase from last year. The pre-conference program held on Tuesday morning by Elanco Animal Health was well attended. On Tuesday evening, Prince Agri Products hosted the private consultant dinner and Balchem Corp. hosted the veterinary dinner. There were 14 speakers at the Conference, addressing the changes in feeding dairy cows and heifers over the past 20 years and future expectations; transition cow feeding and management; managing the feeding of colostrum and milk to dairy calves; feeding to minimize heat stress; designing feeding systems with robotic milking systems; and forage management.

    The undergraduate student presentation contest was held on Tuesday with 9 student participating (2 from Ohio State, 2 from Purdue, and 5 from Michigan State). The graduate students research presentations were held on Tuesday evening with 6 students participating (4 from Ohio State, one from Purdue, and one from Michigan State). Winners of the two student programs are pictured below.

    The 2012 Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference will be held April 24-25 at the Grand Wayne Center in Ft. Wayne, IN.

    Undergrad Winners
    Winners of the Undergraduate Presentation Contest (R to L): Alissa Hunter, Ohio State, First Place;
    Jessica Shire, Michigan State, Second Place; and Stephanie Neal, Ohio State, Third Place.

    Grad Winners

    Winners of the Graduate Student Research Presentation Contest (R to L):
    Katie Boesche, Ohio State, First Place; Jessica Pempek, Ohio State, Second Place; and Lucien McBeth, Ohio State, Third Place.

  6. 2011 Ohio 4-H Dairy Judging Contest at Spring Dairy Expo

    Mrs. Bonnie Ayars, Extension Dairy Program Specialist, The Ohio State University

    The Ohio 4-H Dairy Judging contest was held on April 2nd during Spring Dairy Expo.  Typically, our largest dairy event for youth, there were nearly 375 attending. Our contest is also held in conjunction with the Ohio FFA. With 6 classes to evaluate, the Expo exhibitors were generous in supplying us with quality animals.  Some youth participate in both contests, and it is quite a rigorous day as they complete FFA tests and then make their way to Heritage Hall to prepare and present reasons to our officials.  Intermediates presented reasons to Hannah Thompson and Laura Gordon (2010 collegiate team members) and Lucas Ayars and John Langel (OSU alumni and former judging team members).  The day concluded around 3:00 PM and more than 200 sets of reasons had been given!  Other officials for placings included Larry Schirm, Blaine Crosser, and Julie Delavergne. 

    To check on your hometown or county favorites, click on the following link for the results and also a news release and photo:  www.4hansci.osu.edu/dairy

    If you have not yet read about our Dairy Palooza event coming up, you will very soon!  The support for this has been overwhelming!  More information can also be found at the same link as above.  If you have any youth unaware of 4-H events for dairy enthusiasts, I would suggest a quick peruse of all the programs/events we have to offer.