Managing Feed Costs for Lactating Cows

Dr. Maurice Eastridge, Dairy Nutrition Specialist, Ohio State University (top of page)

Feed costs account for the single highest portion of the variable costs of producing milk. Feed costs usually range from $0.06 to 0.08/lb of dietary dry matter (DM). The cost per cow per day will then depend on DM intake. To relate the feed cost to milk yield, we calculate feed costs per hundredweight of milk, which generally should be < $4.00/cwt. However, the value of the milk will depend on its protein and fat composition (plus some quality indicators). Therefore, we stress the importance of monitoring the income over feed costs (IOFC). With the increased price for protein supplements and the marginal milk prices expected for this year, IOFC should be watched carefully. The goal for IOFC is > $6.00/cow/day. There has been more emphasis recently on monitoring feed efficiency on dairy farms. One of the common methods to calculate feed efficiency is: 3.5% fat-corrected milk (FCM, lb) / DM intake (lb) and 3.5% FCM (lb) = 0.432 x lb milk) + (16.23 x lb milk fat). The desired range for this feed efficiency is 1.4 to 1.6. Our goal is usually to increase DM intake, but if the intake increases without a response in milk yield, then some other positive response should be occurring or the increase in feed costs is not making an economic return. Also, factors other than DM intake may be limiting milk yield, resulting in a low efficiency. A short-term, high feed efficiency may be reflective of excessive body weight loss, which increases the risks for several metabolic diseases. A spreadsheet has been developed at OSU to help manage these aspects relating to feed costs, with a separate spreadsheet available for Holstein versus Jersey cows.


Planning for Spring Forage Management, Dr. Mark Sulc, Forage Specialist, Ohio State University (top of page)

The next couple of months provide a good opportunity to plan ahead and prepare our forage management program for this coming spring. The weather patterns the last couple of years have demonstrated the importance of being well prepared in order to have any hope of achieving forage production goals. Being prepared is a key component to timeliness of forage production practices, which is critical to achieving high yields of quality forage. Below are 10 items to consider as you begin preparing for the coming season.

1) Plan your forage inventory for the coming year and calculate the budget for the forage enterprises. Investigate ideas on reducing costs or increasing income from forages in your operation.

2) Plan new forage seedings and have contingency plans to meet your forage inventory needs. For example, what will you do if forage stands suffer severe winter injury and need to be replaced? Forage stands sometimes suffer winter injury in Ohio, and advance thought will pay off if it happens this year.

3) Order seed and supplies for spring plantings. Consider both yield potential and forage quality goals when making variety selections. Study variety performance data from several sources (Ohio Forage Performance Trial data are available, with links to results in other states).

4) If you buy or sell forages, communicate with your suppliers or customers to update contracts and establish plans for the coming year.

5) If you utilize contract planting or harvesting services, meet with your service supplier to coordinate plans for the coming forage season.

6) Order supplies such as fertilizer, herbicide, pesticides, and fencing according to anticipated needs. Nitrogen fertilization is especially critical to good production of grasses and should be applied early in the spring when grasses begin to grow and soils are suitable for transport of equipment. Potassium and phosphorus topdressing should wait until after the first harvest, when soils are firmer. Soils release more potassium after winter, so topdressing potassium later after the first harvest reduces the potential for elevated levels of this nutrient in the spring harvested forage. Always base fertilizer applications on current soil test results.

7) Begin routine maintenance and repairs on forage planting and harvesting equipment. Order parts for haybine or disc mowers, choppers, and rakes or tedders. Order supplies such as twine, balage wrap, inoculants, etc.

8) Frost seed legumes into small grains or pastures in late February to early March.

9) If you utilize grazing, carefully consider what adjustments you will make to your grazing management during the coming season. How will you manage that spring flush of forage growth so as to maintain high quality pastures throughout the season?

10) Keep snowmobiles and other traffic off alfalfa stands during the winter.

Although the disease has been recognized since at least 1895, Johne's disease is now considered a major disease problem for the cattle industry. Current estimates from the USDA place the prevalence of the disease at about 22% of dairy herds and 8% of beef herds. These are conservative estimates. As evidence of the concern expressed by the livestock industries about this disease, in 2003 the USDA made available about $20 million to the states for Johne's disease control efforts. It is likely that there will be similar funding for the next fiscal year.

Why all this concern? Johne's disease doesn't cause high death losses like the bovine respiratory disease complex (shipping fever) or reproductive losses like another important disease, bovine virus diarrhea (BVD). Johne's disease is a chronic infection that usually enters the herd silently, but once it is established, it may affect a large proportion of the herd and cause production losses, premature culling, and loss of marketability of breeding stock. The infection is incurable, and eradicating it is very difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

Johne's (pronounced Yo'n-ees) disease is a chronic bacterial infection of the intestines that affects all ruminants. It occurs worldwide and is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), a hardy germ related to those that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. The signs of the disease in cattle include a chronic watery diarrhea that does not respond well to treatment and progressive, severe weight loss. In infected sheep and goats, diarrhea usually does not occur, or only occurs sporadically, and severe weight loss is the predominant sign. Most cattle become infected with MAP in the first few weeks of life, but they do not develop signs of the disease until at least two years later. Animals as old as 10 or 12 years-of-age may show signs of the disease, but the usual age is 2 to 6 years old. In cows, the disease frequently shows up after the stress of freshening, and beef bulls often begin to show signs after the breeding season. Unfortunately, infected animals may shed MAP in their manure for months to years before the signs of the disease are obvious.

Infected animals often shed billions of MAP in their manure daily, and it may only take a few thousand to infect a calf. The MAP can survive in the environment for about a year. The key to control of the disease is sanitation and preventing young animals from ingesting the bacteria. Recommended control practices include:

  • Reduce environmental contamination by identifying infected animals and culling them from the herd.
  • Provide clean, well-drained areas for calving. Dirty udders and cows are sources of MAP for the young calves at the time they are most susceptible.
  • Calves should be removed from the calving area a soon as possible and placed in clean rearing facilities.
  • When possible, raise heifers separate from adults. Adult cattle represent potential carriers of infective bacteria. Do not spread manure on heifer pastures.
  • Isolate unthrifty animals or animals with diarrhea until a diagnosis is made or until the animal is culled.

If you do not already have Johne's disease, DON'T BUY IT. Ask about the status of a seller's herd before purchasing if possible. Purchasing animals from herds participating in a testing program, such as Ohio's Johne's Disease Test-Negative Status Program, and finding out how long they have been testing is far, far less risky than buying from herds with unknown status.

A series of meetings are being held around Ohio this winter in an effort to inform producers about this disease and the programs available in our state for testing and control. Topics to be covered include symptoms and description of Johne's disease, methods of prevention and control, testing procedures, and regulatory issues regarding the disease. The speakers will be from the ODA, the USDA, Extension, and producer members of the Cattle Health Advisory Committee to the ODA. These meetings will be held both in the afternoon and evening at some sites.

Date and Location

March 9, 2004
12:30 - 3:00 pm
Salem First United Methodist Church
244 S. Broadway
Salem, OH


7:00 - 9:30 pm
Millcreek Metroparks Mahoning County Farm
McMahon Hall, 7574 S R 46
Canfield, OH

Ernie Oelker, (330) 424-7291,
Dianne Shoemaker, (330) 263-3831,


March 10, 2004
1:00 - 3:30 pm
Fisher Auditorium
Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center
Wooster, OH
Tom Noyes, (330) 264-8722,
Terry Beck, (330) 264-8722,
Roger Amos, (419) 281-8242,
Dean Slates, (330) 674-3015,
March 15, 2004
12:00 - 3:30 pm
Knights of St. John Hall
Maria Stein, Ohio
Food will be served and a registration fee will apply

Joe Beiler, (419) 586-2179,
Roger Bender, (937) 498-7239,
Woody Joslin, (937) 498-7239,
John Smith, (419) 738-2219,
Steve Foster, (937) 548-5215,


March 15, 2004
7:00 - 9:30 pm
Shelby County Extension office
810 Fair Rd.
Sidney, Ohio 45365-2949

Joe Beiler, (419) 586-2179,
Roger Bender, (937) 498-7239,
Woody Joslin, (937) 498-7239,
John Smith, (419) 738-2219,
Steve Foster, (937) 548-5215,

March 24, 2004
7:00 - 9:30 pm
Highland County (Location to be announced)
John Grimes, (937) 393-1918,
Jeff Fisher, (740) 947-2121,
Ray Wells, (740) 702-3200,