Using Income Over Feed Cost - The Penn State Herd Experience

Posted: June 17, 2011

Research herd demonstrates challenges of grouping cows.

Managing a dairy operation requires being knowledgeable in many aspects of animal husbandry, human resource skills, information technology and equipment operation and maintenance, to name a few. One does not necessarily have to be an “expert” in everything but having the basic knowledge to understand how people and animal function is paramount to making a dairy operation viable. Regardless if a dairy operation is privately owned or is a part of a Land Grant University, the goals should be the same. 

Visit this link for more information on how the Penn State Dairy Herd uses Income Over Feed Cost

At Penn State, we have additional challenges that a typical dairy operation would not have to contend with. The primary one is animals being used for research, teaching and outreach, which sometimes limits what can and can not be done by management. However, with that said the goal is to keep the herd profitable so that at the end of the year we can at least breakeven or make a slight profit. This requires constantly looking at the big picture, evaluating what is working and what is not working, and not be afraid of making changes.

Since June 2009 a monthly article has been written on the Penn State Dairy’s income over feed costs (IOFC) and shared with the Extension Dairy Risk Management Team. Topics have ranged from how various feed management, nutritional approaches, forage quality and grouping strategies can impact IOFC. The back issues can be found at under “How does the Penn State dairy herd use IOFC? The following is what occurred at the dairy in April.

The major changes occurring at the Dairy Complex were completing the free-stall study and transitioning into the bunk corn silage. So far this year the corn silage has been very dry ranging from 40 to 50% dry matter coming out of either an upright silo or Ag bag. The bunk corn silage has been testing 29-32% dry matter. The starch in the bunk corn silage is lower compared to the previous samples (34% vs. 37%). Except for adjusting rations based on dry matter, no other ration changes were made. It appeared that cows adapted to the wetter material without any problems.

The major event for April was “de-grouping” the free-stall cows. In the past we have observed more challenges going from one group of 60 to three groups of 20 than vice versa.  Learning from past experience we decided to eliminate all late lactation animals from the pool of candidates so the groups were all lower days in milk and high production. It appeared that this strategy really helped minimize production drops over the course of the project. However, breaking cows into smaller groups consistently affects dry matter intake with the tendency for some groups to consume a lot of dry matter.

The cows were “de-grouped” on a Friday afternoon. I was informed on Monday that the bullying and aggressive nature of the cows amongst each other was extreme. None of our employees ever recall this reaction when returning to our one group of 60. It started as soon as the gates were removed in the pens. Cows were downright nasty and this was observed even as they went to the parlor. Monday morning cows were still being aggressive to each other. We observed during this time that pen 2 cows jumped sharply in intakes. This lasted for as long as the bullying did and then they did return to normal. On average milk loss ranged from 4.0 to 4.5 lbs/cow after cows were “de-grouped”. This was the first time documenting this amount of loss and aggressive behavior. The barn employees also commented on cows eating from the same pen area they had been in the past few months instead of moving to other parts of the barn.

From the beginning of January to the end of April, cows remained on the same ration consisting of 65% forage and 35% concentrate. The protein level in the TMR ranged from 15 to 15.5% on a dry matter basis. Body condition score remained constant over this time period. Overall for the month of April the herd performed well averaging 83.2 lbs, 3.77% fat, 3.03% protein, 190,000 SCC and 8.7 mg/dl MUN.

Contact Information

Virginia A. Ishler
  • Extension Dairy Specialist
Phone: 814-863-3912