CSI-Dairy: A cow-side investigation into milk production potential
Numerous ‘culprits’ exist on dairy farms, robbing herd performance and injuring the dairy’s bottom line. Identifying and arresting the offender isn’t always easy, and often requires a full investigation, gathering and analyzing evidence on the farm and in the lab. This month’s investigator uncovers issues that might impact milk production.
By Martha Baker
Every dairy is looking for opportunities to capture more milk and improve components, and my role is to assist in uncovering these opportunities. One particular herd we work with asked me to come in and troubleshoot. They wanted to improve milk production, but hadn’t been able to accomplish the goal.
This southwest operation was a 4,500-cow start-up dairy. It was a modern facility with open lots. At the time, the herd was comprised mostly of heifers, and averaged 72 lbs. of milk.
Upon arrival, I walked the facility looking for areas to improve. Every operation – even the best run dairies – have opportunities to improve cow comfort. And, like others, small opportunities to improve cow comfort were there. But the cattle looked healthy and there was no lameness. The small adjustments the herd could have made to further improve cow comfort probably would not have had a dramatic impact on milk production.
We evaluated the ration. The herd manager was already dialed in to maximize ration ingredients by using rapid rumen degradable starch testing. However, rations were not balanced for amino acids. A previous amino acid balancing experience had soured the manager’s interest.
Like many operations, this dairy was driven by cost controls, and adept at keeping feed costs per head low. But the focus on cost per head alone kept amino acid balancing out of the realm of possibilities, and limited the ability to drive marginal production and profit.
Research at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center has repeatedly shown improvements in milk production of 6 to 7 lbs. when balancing rations for metabolizable protein and subsequently, lysine and methionine. Additionally, component yields of 0.3 lbs. of fat and protein accompany this production improvement.
These results have shown to be highly repeatable in the field. This notable increase in lactation performance costs 36¢ per cow per day on average, yielding a 3-to-1 return on investment (ROI).
If a producer is receiving milk payments in a component market, the potential opportunity for ROI can grow substantially. Since the herd was located in an area that paid on milk components, the potential for increased revenue would lower the feed cost per hundredweight and increase the herd’s profit margin.
After discussion of the lost milk production potential, we balanced the ration for amino acids. Metabolizable lysine levels were adjusted from 165 grams to 190 grams, and metabolizable methionine was increased from 41 grams to 51 grams.
Within a matter of two weeks the herd gained 6 lbs. of milk, 0.2% on fat and 0.15% on protein. While increasing feed costs by 47¢/head per day (or $2,115/day for the herd), milk component revenue rose $1.27/cow/day ($5,715/day for the herd), yielding a 2.7-to-1 ROI.
Although the herd had tried amino acid balancing before, the difference this time around was that the energy and carbohydrate levels in the diet were correct. If the energy levels in the diet are not in balance, the cow will convert amino acids from a protein source to an energy source. Amino acid balancing becomes extremely costly if energy is not in balance, because the amino acids are being used for something they are not intended for. Meeting the cows’ energy needs and fiber needs first is key when balancing for amino acids.
Feedstuffs in the southwest also tend to be extremely low in lysine and methionine levels. Using a combination of ingredients provides a more complete amino acids profile; then you can finish meeting the requirements using a protected amino acid. By using this combination of ingredients, we were able to effectively and economically meet nutrient requirements and provide additional profit (see Table 1).
This herd has continued to balance for amino acids and maintain production and component levels.
Table 1. Levels of metabolizable lysine and methionine typically available in feedstuffs
Protein Lysine Methionine
(Percent Dry Matter)
Bloodmeal 96.7 7.31 1.60
SurePro 51.3 2.85 0.92
SBM, 48% 54.1 2.28 0.64
DDGS 27.0 1.18 0.39
Canola 37.8 1.60 0.43
Corn gluten meal 66.7 2.44 1.56
Whole cottonseed 20.7 1.14 0.27