Precision feeding is a strategy for productive heifers and a healthy bottom line. The Penn State Dairy Heifer Diet Formulator (PSU-HDF) program encourages an approach to heifer feeding that is driven by the desire to precisely meet metabolizable energy and nitrogen needs of growing dairy heifers while still allowing farmers to meet their desired goals for growth, age at first breeding, age at first calving, and first lactation production.
Feed costs tend to be the largest expense on a dairy operation and managing those costs contributes to a dairy’s ability to be profitable. These costs include purchased feed, but also the true costs to produce crops raised on the farm. Home-raised feeds vary in type, quality, and quantity, but more importantly the cost to produce a given feedstuff is unique to each individual operation. Planning and tracking the costs associated with home-raised feeds is an often overlooked aspect of the farm business that is integral to profitability.
The last several months Pennsylvania dairy producers have received less than $16/cwt for their milk. The average breakeven milk price on many farms hovers around $18 to $19/cwt, so right now producers are hurting financially. If that was not bad enough, many dairies are suffering through drought conditions. The following website http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home.aspx shows conditions in the U.S. and for individual states. These are both situations producers have endured before however it never gets any easier. If not already, now is the time to be forward thinking. Forage quality and quantity could be issues and purchasing additional forage is a real possibility. What contingency plans are in place if the worst case scenarios play out: continued low milk price and low forage inventories?
The dairy industry as with any commodity deals with the peaks and valleys of the markets. Other commodities are in a similar situation as the dairy operation and to stay in business they have to know their cost of production. They are constantly monitoring their business’s performance so changes can be made quickly to compensate for a downturn. It can be depressing when the current income over feed cost is less than the breakeven number. Instead of focusing on how to cut costs, many times to the determent on animal performance, focus on making adjustments that improve upon what is already being done. Many times it is honing in on a small detail that can make a significant impact on milk income.
The Penn State Extension Dairy Team is hosting an agricultural tour of Costa Rica in January 2017. Trip details updated! Registration deadline July 10th.
Future milk prices are looking (somewhat) better, but it seems like since 2008 no one has felt completely secure in the stability of the dairy industry. Being more cautious can be a good thing, but letting the milk prices and low milk margins get you down is not healthy for you, your family, or your farm in the long run. There is plenty of advice on how to manage your margins and your herd. Now, it is time to talk about how to manage your stress.
When data is available, managers can look at mortality numbers, feed shrink (tons harvested or purchased compared to as fed), and inventories of supplies to determine what changes if any are needed to reduce these sometimes steady drains on profitability.
A typical discussion of farm safety may focus on equipment operation principles, the use of personal protective equipment, or safe animal handling, but there are other aspects of farm safety that we sometimes neglect to include in our discussions.
We have recently updated an article about trends in age at first calving using records obtained from DRMS for all first-lactation Holsteins in Pennsylvania during 2015.
Today’s technology provides the opportunity to collect a lot of data related to crops, cows and financials. The problem is a human element is still needed to monitor and evaluate the information. Determining the key metrics important to the producer or manager is essential for detecting and correcting problems earlier versus later.
A common mistake when working with dairy producers is focusing solely on production management or finances. It is the combination of the two that determines if an operation will be successful. Over the years the trend has been for advisors to become specialized. However, it is the interactions of the whole farm system that is critical, especially when working in an industry with extreme market volatility. Communication amongst advisors is essential if dairies are to remain in business.
Shredlage has been a hot topic in recent years, but studies have demonstrated it has the same overall dry matter and fiber digestibility as conventional silage.
In 2015, over half of the milk produced in the U.S. came from five states: California, Wisconsin, Idaho, New York, and Pennsylvania. These states have accounted for over 50% of U.S. milk production annually for the last decade. Despite annual production rankings, how do these states compare between themselves for annual milk per cow, milk price, feed cost, and more importantly income over feed cost (IOFC)?
The Penn State Extension Dairy Business Management Team summarizes Pennsylvania dairy cash flow plans annually to assess the factors that lead to farm profitability. In 2015, the 105 farms in the summary were divided by farm size to determine if there are any benefits to larger-scaled farms.
Structures that house cattle are vital to the success of a dairy business. It is essential these buildings are able to withstand weather events, have tolerable maintenance costs, and contain materials resistant to an interior environment that can be rather aggressive. Buildings need to provide a safe environment for employees and animals, remain in good condition for their functional life with minimal maintenance, and last (at least) the duration of the loan taken to construct them.
It is increasingly common for dairy managers to use tools that allow for pregnancy diagnosis earlier than the traditional 35 to 45 days after insemination. Diagnosing pregnancy early is beneficial for identifying open cows and allowing for reinsemination strategies that will help minimize days open and increase profitability, but losing confirmed pregnancies can be very frustrating.
Regardless of high or low profit margins the investment in health care for calves, heifers and cows should not waver.
When margins are tight the conversation usually focuses on the lactating cows and how to improve performance. This makes sense as they are the major driver of income. However, there are other groups of animals that generate expenses and unless they are sold do not contribute to the income stream. Dry cows and heifers take up on average 20 percent of the farm’s total feed costs (home raised and purchased). This number is generated from the cash flow plans conducted by the Extension Dairy Team.
An examination of 2015 cash flow and breakeven production costs for 107 Pennsylvania farms shows that breakeven ranged from less than $16/cwt to over $22/cwt. Not surprisingly, feed costs are a big contributor to differences between farms.
Women have always been an important part of the dairy industry, but at many universities today the number of women earning degrees in agricultural sciences is equal to or greater than the number of men. The number of women who are the principal operator of a farm is also growing.