EAST EARL, Pa. — A dairy farm should manage its herd like a well-managed professional sports team. Strategically invest money to generate the largest return. Darren Remsburg, a Zoetis technical service veterinarian, liked to compare a well-managed dairy to the 2002 Oakland A’s the year they had the best record in baseball. He spoke at the R&J Dairy Seminar on Jan. 30.
The 2002 A’s pulled together the right blend of players with the desired talents to create their winning team. “What numbers should we be paying attention to on our dairy farms,” he asked.
Remsburg said Zoetis and AgStar have wrapped up a study where they evaluated dairy profitability on Midwestern dairy farms, comparing financial and management records. They looked to see what management activities reaped the greatest benefits.
“Milk production per cow is the single most important variable in determining farm profitability,” he said. Think about things that would improve milk production per cow and commit to improving management strategies.
Replacement hefiers are like a long-term investment. “Or we can think about I take out a loan from the bank to raise this heifer and how long do I want to pay it off? The cheapest might not be the best,” he said. If a heifer dies before calving, Remsburg said the farmer is stuck with a loan without a cow to pay the bill.
“We still got to be good cow people,” he said. “As much as we think about the business side, we can’t forget the animal husbandry side.”
A farm’s net herd replacement cost evaluates raising heifers and having them calve to make as much milk as possible to pay back the loan it cost to raise them. “When we get her to the lactating herd, we want to keep her there as long as possible,” he said. “And when we sell her, we want to sell her as a big, fat old cow not as a lame, skinny fresh cow. The difference in those things is what impacts a herd’s net replacement cost.”
Farmers need to get calves started off correctly with colostrum within the first four hours of life. Provide adequate feed to promote growth and get them bred to enter the dairy herd earlier. Dropping the age at first calving from 25 to 23 months reduces heifer costs and has them paying back their “loan” faster.
“Lowering your days at first calving will save you about $100 an animal a year,” he said.
Energy corrected milk determines the amount of milk produced and adjusted to 3.5 percent fat and 3.2 percent protein. More milk per cow means more profit. Achieving that higher production, however, is correlated with healthy cows. Lower cell counts, death losses, feed costs and days open are all hidden but important drivers of milk per cow. In other words, healthy cows produce more milk.
“These small things add up over time and largely work together to make our dairies more profitable,” he said.
Breeding costs are positively correlated with making more milk. “If you get cows bred sooner, faster and more timely, it make more milk,” he said. There are a range of strategies regarding a breeding program. Any program is better than no program, he said. Waiting for a cow to come into heat is not a program, “it’s a lottery ticket.”
Marginal milk “is a magical thing,” he said. Cows have to eat a certain amount of feed for body maintenance. For each additional pound of milk produced, the marginal milk level shrinks. “It’s creating something out of nothing, almost,” he said. Getting a cow bred back faster shortened the length of the low production portion of the lactation curve.
The other step a farmer needs to remember is filling empty stalls in a tie stall barn. “When milk price is very low, like it is now, the thought is ‘I can’t afford another heifer, cow in this empty stall.’ What I am going to tell you — you can’t afford not to,” he said. It helps to spread the overhead costs of the barn.
Cows do die, but what can a farmer do to minimize that risk of death loss. Genetic testing can help predict what heifer has a larger viability risk. If a farm has too many heifers, it might be worth it to genetically test to help cull potential problem heifers out of the herd. He used the example of evaluating for somatic cell count. The top three-quarters will not have much difference, but the bottom quarter will be noticeable.
“If we can identify any of those in our herd, and find them a new herd that wasn’t our herd, that would be the way to go,” he said.
There are a range of genetic tests,. He recommends one that evaluates milk production and wellness traits.
Somatic cell count can cut into farm profitability and cow health. Mastitis impacts cow health, reproduction and culling.
Every 100,000 increase in somatic cell count is costing a farmer 5 pounds of milk per cow, he said. “It’s not just that premium that you get, it’s that governor on the production you get from those cows,” he said. High somatic cell cows are also at greater risk to die, need treatment or take longer to breed back.
By: Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade
Source: Lancaster Farming