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How to Feed Dry Cows on the Cheap

April 9, 2020


Anna-Lisa Laca



“As dry cows don't require many nutrients, outside of what we can variety for ages I think now's a really good time to reanalyze, any additives in the diet that you have,” Trent Dado says.  ( Wyatt Bechtel )


While dairy farmers across the country seek to reduce their total milk production, either to meet base requirements or because their processor demands it, they will likely choose to sell cows or dry them off early. Because cow prices are falling by the day, it is becoming more attractive to attempt early dry off. Here are three things to consider when feeding dry cows as cheap as possible without sacrificing cow health or her next lactation. 

1. Don’t overfeed them. Cows that will be dry longer than a typical 60-day dry period run the risk of becoming over conditioned, says Butch Cargile with Progressive Dairy Solutions. 

“You certainly have to limit their caloric intake,” he says. “If you have them at the right body condition when you dry them you just want to feed enough to provide fetal growth.” 

If you dry them early, you’ll still need to provide enough calories for fetal growth, but they won’t require as many calories to do that, he adds.

2. Consider utilizing pushouts. Cargile says their group utilizes high cow pushouts in close up rations on dairies that pushout feed every day. The same strategy could be used with dry cows as a method to decrease costs, he says. 

“As long as we analyze it and balance around it you could be using low cow, late lactation or maybe even heifer pushouts to feed cows that you early dried,” Cargile says. “But you have to manage it well.” 

One thing to keep in mind if you take this approach is to be cautious about underfeeding minerals. Lack of minerals in a dry cow diet can not only hurt fetal development but can also impact the cow’s next lactation. 

“You don’t want to underfeed minerals to those animals, but you could certainly account for what you’re giving them from those pushouts as a portion of the ration,” he adds.

3. Evaluate feed ingredients. Trent Dado of GPS Dairy Consulting says one area to reduce cost quickly is to re-evaluate additives you might be feeding dry cows. 

“As dry cows don't require many nutrients, outside of what we can variety for ages I think now's a really good time to reanalyze, any additives in the diet that you have,” he says. 

Dado recommends farmers reanalyze their forages for mycotoxins, molds and yeasts to ensure that if they are feeding binders, they are warranted. 

“If you do have mycotoxins in the feed, you should continue to feed a binder, especially because they are pregnant cows so you don't want to be hindering cow health at all by exposing them to unnecessary loads of mycotoxins and molds,” he says. 

According to Dado, one of the unfortunate things about the timing of this situation is that forage inventories are getting lower as we enter spring. 

“We don’t know what this spring will hold in terms of new crop forage production,” he says adding that forage inventory should be a key consideration when deciding whether or not to hang on to cows. 

Cargile advises farmers look for alternative forage sources when available and if affordable. Those could be beet pulp or almond hulls in the West or soy hulls or straw in the Midwest or northeast. As DDGs become too expensive to feed the cost of some alternative feeds like soybean hulls are rising, Dado says. So be sure to evaluate the total cost of the alternative before making a decision. 

All things considered, Cargile and Dado agree that there are ways to feed dry cows for little money. Work with your nutritionist to come up with creative ways to use what you have on hand to reduce costs. 


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