Dairymen in the Midwest have a little better forage availability this year compared to one year ago, when many were dealing with a severe drought, noted Mike Hutjens during a presentation at the recent World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.

However, he said it was estimated in April that 2 million acres of alfalfa in the U.S. was winter killed.

“At meetings held in Wisconsin back in June, farmers were saying they planned to chop corn silage in July because they would be out of corn silage,” added Hutjens, a University of Illinois professor of animal sciences emeritus.

In addition, dairymen also need to watch the quality of the forages. From samples at Rock River Labs, the NDF is up 2 to 3 units, which is a “pretty scary number,” the professor said.

“That says the alfalfa we have may not be the quality we’re expecting,” he explained.

Hutjens questioned the dairymen if they had enough forage for their herds. And, he stressed, every dairyman should know the answer.

“You need about seven tons of dry matter per cow to get through until a year from now,” he said.

Some dairymen may be able to stretch their forage inventory by adding straw or cornstalks to the cow’s ration.

“You may want to look at treating the cornstalks with calcium oxide,” Hutjens said. “It chemically reacts with the fiber and makes it more digestible, but be careful because if the calcium is not uniformly mixed with water, the stalks will catch fire.”

The professor encouraged the dairymen to never sacrifice milk production in the herd by limiting the ration.

For example, high-producing cows can convert one pound of dry matter to two pounds of milk. With feed costs at 12 cents per pound of dry matter and the milk price at 20 cents per pound, the profit is an additional 38 cents per day for every additional pound of dry matter consumed, the speaker noted.

Milk components can further boost the milk price.

“For the U of I herd, our butterfat test was 3.9 percent, so that’s 22 cents more, the protein is 3.1 percent, that’s 33 cents, the milk quality premium is 83 cents and no rBST is 59 cents,” the professor reported. “I’ve got nearly $2 lying on the table.”

To determine the best feed buys, Hutjens recommends dairymen use FeedVal 2012.

“This free program is great because it ranks feeds on cost and you pick from the 13 different nutrients like crude protein, energy or starch,” he said. “You might run this program for heifers and high-string cows because they have different requirements.”

Dairymen can input their own alfalfa quality and corn silage quality.

“It can be very specific to your operation,” the professor said. “It says corn at $6.50 per bushel is still a good buy based on energy, starch and fat; corn silage is a good buy at $50 per ton and straw at $120 per ton.”

Since feed prices are a significant portion of costs for dairymen, this is an area of their operation that receives a lot of attention.

And this was obvious by the size of the crowd that attended Hutjens’ presentation, with nearly every chair in the room filled.