By Daniel Grant
Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist, didn't mince words last week when asked if dairy farmers should consider including more byproducts in their herds' feed rations to reduce costs.
"If you're an Illinois farmer and you're not looking at byproducts, you're missing the boat," Hutjens said emphatically during the Illinois Dairy Days program held at Eureka College in Woodford County. "We've got some winners out there that may reduce the price of feed."
Distillers dried grains (DDGs), wet corn distillers grain, corn gluten, and pork meat and bone meal are among the byproducts readily available in Illinois for dairy cattle diets that could be used to replace corn, which has doubled in price the past four months, according to Hutjens.
Distillers grains, which are high in protein, fat, energy content, and phosphorus, also could be complemented with cornstalks, which are high in fiber, based on research conducted at South Dakota State University, Hutjens said.
Other corn byproducts that may be available in some areas of the state include corn germ, bran, gluten meal, and modified DDGs, which contain only 3 percent fat.
"The question you have to ask yourselves (as dairymen) is do I have an opportunity in my herd to plug these inexpensive ingredients into my ration," Hutjens said.
Those who use more byproducts to replace corn should work with a nutritionist to make sure the quality of the feed does not suffer, Hutjens said.
Otherwise, reduced feed quality could affect herd health, milk production, and reproduction.
"The bottom line is if a cow can give you 75 pounds of milk, get that 75 pounds of milk," he said. "Never shut the business down" to save on feed costs.
Why should producers examine all the different feed alternatives?
Jim Endress, U of I Extension animal systems educator, said the cost of feed per animal per day can range from 43 cents to $2.18 for a calf, depending on the feed ingredients. Meanwhile, overall feed costs in recent months increased about 28 cents per animal per day due to the higher price of corn.
"Is there some opportunity to fine tune the dairy ration? Yes," Endress said. "If you have a chance, you should analyze your cost to produce milk on a per-cow or per-hundredweight basis."
Dairy producers also should conduct an enterprise analysis and allocation on their farms to see which parts of the business are making or losing money.
"If your farm has three enterprises and you aren't doing an allocation, you have no idea what kind of income and expenses you're getting from each," Endress added.
"It's imperative to know your costs for each enterprise so you can use that information to make sound business decisions."