Precision Feed Management: Optimizing Feed to Drive Profit

On a dairy farm, feed is the largest expense.  Evaluating an operation’s feed cost in relationship to the net milk income per cow can help a farmer understand not just the cost, but the economic returns from the money they are spending.  It gets even better when they can compare their performance to other farms.

Kevin Ganoe, Regional Crop Specialist and David Balbian, Area Dairy Management Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension set some pretty big goals in their 2015 proposal.  They said that by working with 22 dairy farms to benchmark the economics of their farm’s feed costs and net milk income per cow, they could help 75% of the farms improve their net milk income minus total feed costs by 30 cents per cow per day.

NYFVI’s board and dairy review panel had seen the power of benchmarks and discussion groups and were eager to see that approach used to help farms with feed management.

They saw the work as a way to bring together Ganoe’s expertise in growing quality forage, with Balbian’s passion about the link between nutrition and economic milk production.

With funding secure, the project leaders quickly completed the recruitment process and established three discussion groups based on geography.  Each participating farm shared farm specific data that was aggregated for comparison. This analysis helped them evaluate if their feeding program was generating the milk income needed to be profitable.

Project leaders met individually with each farm to gather the data, then met in groups to discuss the overall benchmarks.  All data was anonymized. One-on-one meetings were also held with individual producers about their specific numbers. Throughout the project benchmarks were compiled six times.

Four of the participating farms were grazing dairies and they received support specific to their needs.

Pictured on the left: Project leader David Balbian at Woodlawn Dairy with Tim & Mike Cantwell and the farm’s nutritionist Kienan Gridley.

One farmer that participated in the discussion groups is Mike Cantwell from Richfield Springs.  He’s a fifth generation dairy farmer with a 200 cow dairy. At the 2019 NYFVI annual meeting he shared how comparing his results to the group helped him see that his butterfat percentage was lower than other participating farms.  This prompted a change in the farm’s nutritionist and a significant increase in his numbers.  The result was an increase in their milk price of about $2 per hundredweight.

Across the discussion groups other farms had similar experiences with an average net improvement of 65 cents in net milk income minus total feed costs per cow.  For every 100 milking cows that comes out to $23,725 a year!

In 2017 Ganoe continued work with many of the farmers to conduct corn silage digestibility forage testing as part of the NYFVI Topic Specific Team Program. 

“I like this project because it really helps farmers understand the value of high quality forage.  Now when I send out my forage reports, or encourage feed analysis, the farmers connect the information to their milk checks. ”
Kevin Ganoe, CCE Regional Crop Specialist

Also as part of the TST program, Balbian is working with Madison County farmers to develop precision feeding benchmarks.

“I like this project because it helps farmers really focus not just on feed costs, but on their milk components.  It allows them to see that what they spend on feed can more then come back to them”

David Balbian, CCE Area Dairy Management Specialist