JIT Inventory: Amazon-Yes, Dairy Producer-No

Dr. Dwight Roseler, Adjunct Professor Department of Animal Sciences and Purina Midwest Dairy Nutrition Consultant

Just in time (JIT) inventory provides Amazon customers with consumer items upon demand. No storage of consumer items needed. In the industrial manufacturing sector, JIT improves efficiency and saves money by coordinating inbound supply resources to meet daily manufacturing capacity. COVID-19 threw a wrench in the JIT process across the world as raw supply chain disruptions limited the resources for manufacturers. Agriculture was not exempt from that disruption and currently these supply limitations cause equipment delays and shortages. Fortunately, dairy producers do not use JIT forage inventory and were exempt from forage supply disruptions.   

In feeding dairy cows, forages are harvested seasonally then stored fermented for the year in silo’s or dry as bales. Forage storage has a financial cost with storage cost and shrink. However, the highest forage cost is no forage or inadequate forage. When forage supply is limited, purchased feed costs go up, production can suffer, and profit declines. Nothing can replace good quality forage in a dairy ration.  

Feed software programs that link with TMR weigh scales will manage forage inventory if the values are accurate. The software properly measures current inventory and calculates feed shrink when inbound tons are correct, shrink losses are low, and TMR scales operate properly.  

A dairy farm client several years ago learned a hard lesson when corn silage supply was short. Alternatives to corn silage can be fed but often the performance is less than expected. In the middle of June, I received a phone call and was informed by the dairy manager to formulate a diet to reduce corn silage from 62 to 32 lb/cow and nothing was on the farm to replace it. Fortunately, wet gluten feed, ground corn, and chopped hay were available and reasonably priced during that year when corn was near $3/bushel.  Cow health was maintained but performance suffered and purchased feed costs soared. The dairy survived but was financially constrained.

As a thumb rule, 1.5 to 2 acres of land per milking cow and replacement heifer can be used to determine forage land base for the herd. This land amount will vary based on soil quality, weather, forage yield, harvest and storage losses, and milk production per cow. In years of poor crop yields, this land base can be 2.5 to 3 acres per milking cow. High production herds (100 lb milk/cow) will require 15% more land (1.7 to 2.3 acres/cow) than herds at lower production (80 lb milk/cow). Higher forage yields per acre can also provide more forage for the farm. The number of replacement heifers will determine the acreage base for growing forage for the herd. In recent years, the number of replacement heifers has decreased per capita of milking cow from 95% to 78%. This not only reduces total feed costs on the dairy but also the land requirement for growing forages.

In years where forage yields are not adequate due to weather or uncontrollable circumstances, evaluate alternative forages.  Plan and do not just feed whatever comes out of the silo. Options for years of short forage is to purchase corn silage from neighboring farms. Other options to consider include double cropping a cool season forage (triticale, rye, or wheat) for spring planting or spring plant short season (60 to 80 day) forages (forage sorghum or BMR sorghum). These spring forages can produce an abundant crop in 60 to 80 days with one harvest yields of up to 18 ton/acre of wilted forage.  These forages will have high sugar content and will replace corn silage with added ground corn.

Plan for good quality and adequate forage acres for your dairy. Abundant good quality forage supports profitable farms that maintain healthy cows at high production.  Just in time forages and feeding whatever is in the silo is never a good idea for dairy cows or profitable dairy farms.