Buckeye Dairy News: Volume 19, Issue 2

  1. Milk Prices, Costs of Nutrients, Margins and Comparison of Feedstuffs Prices

    Alex Tebbe, Graduate Research Associate, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    Milk Prices

    In the last issue, the December Class III price closed at $17.40/cwt and was projected to remain relatively unchanged in January at $17.45/cwt, followed by a nearly 75¢/cwt drop to $16.73/cwt for the month of February. The Class III price for the months of January and February actually closed at $16.77 and $16.88/cwt, respectively. For the month of March, the price is expected to stay stagnant at $16.90/cwt and drop 85¢/cwt in April to $16.05/cwt. Producers should expect February and March mailbox prices to be very similar at around $16.90 to 17.00/cwt. 

    Nutrient Prices

    As in previous issues, these feed ingredients were appraised using the software program SESAME™ developed by Dr. St-Pierre at The Ohio State University to price the important nutrients in dairy rations, to estimate break-even prices of all commodities traded in Ohio, and to identify feedstuffs that currently are significantly underpriced as of March 26, 2017. 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.  

    Nutrient prices continue to remain relatively unchanged as they have been for the past two years. For MP, its current price ($0.44/lb) has risen slightly from January’s issue ($0.38/lb) as a result of the recent surge in animal byproducts. Soybean prices have also risen slightly; however, the MP price is still similar to the 5 year average ($0.43/lb). The current price will likely decrease after the planting season is over because of the surge in seed sales and the projected 5 million more acres of soybeans to be planted in 2017 compared to last year according to the USDA. The South American harvest ongoing will drive protein price down even further as they are currently on track for a record year.

    The cost of NEL decreased nearly 2¢/lb to 7.5¢/lb, while the price of e-NDF and ne-NDF are nearly identical to last month at 5¢/lb and -4¢/lb (i.e., feeds with a significant content of non-effective NDF are priced at a discount), respectively.

    To estimate the cost of production at these nutrient levels, I used the Cow-Jones Index with cows milking 70 lb/day or 85 lb/day at 3.7% fat and 3.1% protein. For January’s issue, the average income over nutrient costs (IONC) was estimated at $11.57/cwt for a cow milking 70 lb/day and $11.94/cwt for a cow milking 85 lb/day. For March, the IONC for our 70 lb/day and 85 lb/day cows are slightly lower at an estimated $10.80/cwt and $11.18/cwt, but this should still be profitable.

    Table 1. Prices of dairy nutrients for Ohio dairy farms, March 26, 2017.

    Economic Value of Feeds

    Results of the Sesame analysis for central Ohio on March 26, 2017 are presented in Table 2. Detailed results for all 26 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 those for which we didn’t have a price. One must remember that Sesame compares all commodities at one specific point in time. 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 26 feed commodities used on Ohio dairy farms, March 26, 2017.  

    For convenience, Table 3 summarizes the economic classification of feeds according to their outcome in the Sesame analysis. Feedstuffs that have gone up in price, or in other words moved a column to the right since the last issue, are red. Conversely, feedstuffs that have moved to the left (i.e., decreased in price) are green.

    Table 3. Partitioning of feedstuffs, Ohio, March 26, 2017.


    At Breakeven


    Corn, ground, dry

    Alfalfa hay – 40% NDF

    Blood meal

    Corn silage

    Bakery Byproducts

    Canola meal

    Distillers dried grains

    Beet pulp

    Citrus pulp

    Feather meal

    Gluten meal

    41% Cottonseed meal

    Gluten feed

    Soybean meal - expeller

    Fish meal


    48% Soybean meal


    Meat meal

    Soybean hulls


    Wheat middlings

    Whole cottonseed

    44% Soybean meal


    Wheat bran

    Whole, roasted soybeans

    As coined by Dr. St-Pierre, 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. For example, your nutritionist might be using some molasses in your rations for reasons other than its NEL and MP contents.


    For those of you who use the 5-nutrient group values (i.e., replace metabolizable protein by rumen degradable protein and digestible rumen undegradable protein), see Table 4.

    Table 4. Prices of dairy nutrients using the 5-nutrient solution for Ohio dairy farms, March 26, 2017.




  2. Pay Attention to Dairy Cow Stocking Density

    Mr. Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Wayne County, Ohio State University Extension

    In a dairy free-stall barn, stocking density is most typically defined in terms of cows per stall or used as a percentage. For example,1 cow/stall is equal to a 100% stocking density and 1.3 cows/stall is equal to a 130% stocking density. Stocking density is an important number to pay attention to because stocking density affects cow behavior, how a cow uses its time, and stocking density affects cow health and milk production. In short, stocking density has an impact on the economics of a dairy operation.

    To understand how stocking density can affect a dairy cow, you have to know something about how a dairy cow ideally will budget her day in terms of time given to certain activities. In a February 13 webinar to Ohio dairy producers, Dr. Peter Krawczel from the University of Tennessee, Animal Science Department talked about stocking density, cow comfort, and cow productivity. According to Dr. Krawczel, in a healthy environment, the typical lactating dairy cow spends 3 to 5 hours /day eating, about 0.5 hours/day drinking, 2 to 3 hours/day in socializing, walking, grooming, and estrous activity, and 10 to 14 hours /day lying and resting, which leaves 2.5 to 3.5 hours/day for milking. When you look at that time budget, you can see that lying and resting time is very important in the life of a dairy cow. So obviously, anything that negatively impacts on that behavior is probably going to impact on health and milk production.

    The amount of time a dairy cow spends lying down and resting is not because the cow is bored and there is nothing else to do. It is necessary for cow health and productivity. How important is this time? During his webinar presentation, Dr. Krawczel talked about studies done to evaluate the importance of rest to dairy cows. When dairy cows are deprived of that 10 to 14 hours/day to lie down and rest, blood cortisol levels, associated with stress, increased while growth hormone levels, associated with milk production, decreased. In fact, dairy cows will prioritize rest over other daily activities. Cows will sacrifice feeding time and social behaviors to maximize lying/resting time. To get the needed lying/resting time, a cow must have access to a comfortable stall.

    Access to a stall goes back to stocking density. An important question is: At what level does stalking density have a negative impact on cow health and milk production? Is there an acceptable level of overstocking? Research that has been done on stalls per cow reveals that it is not necessary to have a strict one cow per one stall ratio, which would be considered a 100% stocking density. Some level of overstocking is acceptable, but generally should not exceed 120% or 1.2 cows/stall.  Barn design and layout can influence the exact number, as well as barn management. As farms exceed that 120% stocking density, milk yield or potential milk production begins to decline, and there can be health issues associated with overcrowding that negatively impact milk production.

    Stocking densities of greater than 120% are common on some farms, and there are the stories of farms that maintain stocking densities in excess of 150%, with apparently good herd milk production. Often economics drive overstocking in free-stall barns. The barn facility is a fixed cost. If more cows are put into the facility, the fixed cost is spread over more animals and the cost per head is lower. In times of low milk prices and low returns per cow, there is a tendency to add more milk cows to try to retain the same income level, thus overstocking occurs. Sometimes overstocking occurs because more heifers are being retained for a planned herd expansion.  Until that expansion is completed with the expanded housing, overstocking occurs. Finally, because of the cow’s ability to adjust and make sacrifices in overcrowded conditions, the farm manager may not be aware of the decreased milk production potential or the increased health issues. The level of milk production and the health issues has become the normal operating condition.

    When stocking densities exceed 120%, cows begin to compete for stalls. This is a stressor. If cows don’t get adequate rest time, their immune system can become compromised and they are more susceptible to illness. Often, standing time will increase and incidence of lameness or other foot problems increase.
    Dr. Krawzcel talked about research conducted on the time to lie down following milking. Ideally after milking, the cow should remain standing or walking around for at least half an hour to allow teat ends to seal and prevent possible mastitis causing organisms from entering via the teat canal. At stocking densities of 100 to 120%, time to lie down after milking averaged 38 to 39 minutes, which is considered very good. At rates higher than this, the time drops to under 30 minutes. Basically, cows know that stalls are in demand and they may hurry a meal or cut out some other activity to grab a stall as quickly as possible. Stocking density of dry cows has health implications as well. In a March 13 webinar, Dr. Katy Proudfoot, OSU Extension Animal Welfare/Behavior Specialist, presented some information that showed when cows are crowded in the transition period, the risk of metritis and ketosis in early lactation increases.

    A final factor to consider in regard to stocking density is not only cow access to a stall, but cow comfort when a stall is available. Stall bedding must be clean and dry. The stall design and size must be matched to cow size. Paying attention to stocking density with a goal to not exceed 120% can decrease production costs while maintaining or increasing milk production.



  3. Ohio Livestock Coalition Launches New Website

    Dr. Maurice L. Eastridge, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    The Ohio Livestock Coalition (OLC) has launched the new web site for the Livestock Environmental Assurance Program (LEAP) – a voluntary program to help Ohio's livestock farms take a proactive approach in protecting the land, air, and water on and around their farms. The LEAP program was founded in 1997 to help farmers identify and address key management issues affecting environmental quality by providing helpful evaluation tools and resources. The new web site is located at: www.ohleap.org.

  4. Milk Production of Ohio Dairy Herds

    Dr. Maurice L. Eastridge, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

    It is always important to monitor the yield of milk and the composition of milk, especially for the individual farmer, because the income of the dairy farm depends on this source of revenue. The yields of protein and fat are the primary determinants of the price received by farmers. The proportions of fat and protein are useful in monitoring cow health and feeding practices within a farm. The income over feed costs (IOFC) and feed costs per hundred of milk are important monitors of costs of milk production.

    The average production of milk, fat, and protein by breed for Ohio dairy herds in 2016 using the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI; http://www.dhiohio.com) program are provided in Table 1. Not all herds on DHI are included in the table below because of the different testing options offered by DHI, some herds opt for no release of records, lack of sufficient number of test dates, and given that some of the herds consist of other breeds than the ones shown. In comparison, the average of milk yield for all cows (266,000) in Ohio for 2015 was 20, 875 lb milk with 3.78% fat.

    Table 1. Number of herds, milk yield, milk fat, and milk protein by breed for Ohio herds on DHI during 2016.


    Number of Herds

    Milk (lb/lactation)

    Milk fat (%)

    Milk protein (%)






    Brown Swiss