MADISON, Wis. — The goal for dairy farmers is to produce the optimal amount of milk based on their facilities.

One of the concerns for dairymen is forage availability, said Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois professor of animal sciences emeritus.

“The availability is a little better than last year,” he said.

In addition to the drought of 2012 that reduced forage production, in April 2013, Hutjens said, there were nearly 2 million acres of alfalfa that were damaged by winterkill.

“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,” he said during a seminar held at the World Dairy Expo.

Forage quality also may be a challenge for dairymen.

“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.”

The corn silage samples so far have been fairly typical, Hutjens said.

“The protein is down a little bit,” he said. “But the starch may be 10, 20 or 30 percent depending on where the crop was grown.”

It is important for every dairyman to know if they have enough forage inventory for the herd.

“You need about 7 tons of dry matter per cow to get through until a year from now,” Hutjens said. “Fall oats were a big ticket item last year. Producers planted them in late August and cut them in late October.”

Feeding straw or cornstalks are additional options for dairymen to stretch their forage inventory.

“You may want to look at treating the cornstalks with calcium oxide,” the professor 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.”

Hutjens stressed the importance of never sacrificing milk production.

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, he said.

In addition, Hutjens said, 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,” he said. “I’ve got nearly $2 lying on the table.”

Hutjens is a big fan of calculating the feed efficiency for dairy herds, and his goal is for herds to hit 1.6.

“Most of you are between 1.4 and 1.5, but if you do not have a number go home and calculate it,” he said. “The feed efficiency is the pounds of 3.5 milk divided by the pounds of dry matter consumed.”

The feed efficiency indicates how efficient cows can take a ration and convert it to milk.

“It is a tremendously powerful number,” Hutjens said.

Some dairymen may feed less alfalfa this year due to higher prices and add corn silage or byproduct feeds into the ration.

For corn silage, dairymen can use a kernel processing score to evaluate their feed.

“If your score is adequate and you go to excellent, there’s two pounds more milk,” Hutjens said. “Or if you do a poor job, you will loose two pounds of milk, so that’s four pounds of milk lying on the table if the processor is doing its thing.”

Another option is to harvest shredlage.

“This is a different technology that really smashes the corn kernels, and it has a longer length of chop at 1 to 1.25 inches,” the professor said.

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.”

Hutjens encouraged dairymen to take advantage of free feed.

“With poor management of bunkers and piles the forage feed loss can be from 5 to 35 percent, concentrate losses can range from 2 to 10 percent and you can loose 5 to 10 percent of byproducts,” he said. “That’s feed you bought, raised and cut and never gets into a cow.”

The professor recommends the use of silage inoculants because they can result in a 3-percent improvement in dry matter recovery for corn silage and a 2-percent increase in digestibility.

“You get those improvements because you don’t loose some of the fermentable carbohydrates,” he said.

“The dry matter and nutrients saved are worth $3 for every $1 invested,” he added. “If you put it through a high producing cow, it’s 8 to 1.”

Using an oxygen barrier covering like SiloStop, Hutjens said, “is a no-brainer” because it reduces oxygen penetration.

“A covering will reduce dry matter loss in the top 1 to 2 feet of silage by 50 percent,” he said. “There will be a 2 to 5 percent savings in the total amount of dry matter in the bunker.”